Did farmers really evict almost a million people?

“The Nkuzi study probably overstates the prevalence of farm evictions”
Issue Date 27 April 2007

"The Nkuzi study probably overstates the prevalence of farm evictions"

The Human Rights Commission recently presented a report to the Select Committee on Agriculture and Land Affairs in parliament in which they accused of evicting exactly 930 275 people illegally from farms in the first decade of democracy, or an average of 84 500 per year. Their report is based on a study by the Nkuzi Development Association published at the end of 2005.

The suspiciously precise figure of 930 275 evictions is based on a survey across 7 759 households in 300 communities. A total of 355 evictee households were identified.

The figure for “illegal farm evictions” was derived by extrapolating from the 355 households. Statistics can lie Contrary to standard statistical methods, the results of the study are presented not in terms of confidence limits but as exact figures. It is simply not possible to extrapolate information from 355 households to indicate that exactly 930 275 people were illegally removed from farms during the last 11 years.

Therefore, these figures probably overstate the extent of farm evictions – chances are that another sample of 7 800 households would give a completely different result. Without the normal tests of statistical significance, which are missing from the more than 200-page report, the results have very little validity.

Implications of report lthough the Nkuzi study probably overstates the prevalence of farm evictions and uses selected worst-case anecdotes to illustrate alleged farmer brutality, the figures in the report have been widely quoted to demonstrate that farmers do not care for their workers. Numerous articles accused farmers of illegally evicting thousands of farm dwellers. There is no longer any doubt that there is a concerted attempt by certain NGOs supported by government officials and politicians to discredit farmers.
Their final goal is not clear – possibly they are paving the way for Zimbabwe-style land reform in future.

In a recent article in Beeld, labour affairs expert Jan de Lange quoted Agri SA legal and parliamentary liaison officer Annelise Crosby as saying that although had some misgivings about the Nkuzi report, they could not query its figures. An in-depth study of the report, and if possible of the original data collected, is urgently needed in order to reveal the truth about so-called farm evictions.

The real reason for evictions
Economic factors and not legislation determine how many people will remain on farms. Farm labour is a production resource like any other. the price of one resource increases relative to the price of another, economics dictate that producers will use more of the cheaper resource and less of the more expensive one. The recent increase in minimum wages for farmworkers increased the cost of labour to the farmer. Many farmers then replaced labour with machinery and more will do so as the cost of labour and the administrative burden on employers increase.

The Extension of Security of Tenure Act (Esta) has made it more difficult for farmers to remove unwanted people from their farms.
Farming is probably the only occupation where workers retain a right to housing provided by the employer. The pilot who leaves the Air Force must evacuate the house on the airbase; the same applies to the rooms occupied by domestic workers in our cities.

Farmers did a lot during the early 1990s to improve housing for farmworkers. In most cases these workers stay in houses that are bigger and better built than the RDP houses in town. However, many former farmworkers have left farms not because they were evicted but because they were promised RDP houses in town.

Most farmers manage their labour in strict compliance with labour and other regulations. Esta provides a process whereby a farmer can legally evict farm dwellers under certain conditions. Farmers must ensure that they follow all legal requirements exactly. NGOs are looking for scapegoats to further their propaganda campaign. Do not give any person who does not work for you the right to stay on your farm or to keep animals on it. If in future you want to withdraw that right, you will need to go to court. Dr Koos Coetzee is an agricultural economist at the MPO. All opinions are his own. |fw