Mbeki urged to break deadlock

The controversy concerning reported remarks by land and agriculture minister Lulama Xingwana that rape and assault of farmworkers were rife in the sector looks set to continue.
Issue Date: 9 February 2007

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On 26 January farmers’ unions Agri SA and TAU SA walked out of a meeting with the minister, scheduled to discuss tensions over her reported remarks. The unions demanded that she furnish them with proof of the allegations or retract. Instead, the minister invited rural women’s rights organisations to the meeting. Four days later, following a meeting with agriculture and land affairs MECs throughout the country to outline her ministry’s priorities for the year, Xingwana repeated she was concerned that farmworkers’ rights were being violated, farmers were being murdered and evictions were continuing.

The MECs present “unequivocally supported” previous statements made by Xingwana condemning abuse of farm dwellers and the murder of farmers and their workers. “It was agreed [at the meeting] that there is an urgent need to engage with the safety and security cluster to ensure that it responds effectively to inhumane treatment and abuse of farmworkers,” said Xingwana.

She said her MECs had related incidents of farmers impounding livestock, denying farmworkers and dwellers their right to bury their families, denying them access to schools, water and other basic services and continuing to effect illegal evictions. “The meeting highlighted that in some parts of the country there are positive developments, where white commercial farmers have empowered previously disadvantaged communities and contributed towards alleviating poverty,” Xingwana added.

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Agri SA president Lourie Bosman said the union had been proactive in publicising workers’ and farmers’ rights and obligations, and that farmers had a vested interest in treating workers humanely to avoid boycotts from foreign consumers.

Agri SA accused Xingwana of continuing to take a hard line rather than defusing tensions. The union had asked President Thabo Mbeki to resolve the dispute. “This will be the first item on the agenda at the next presidential working group with agriculture,” said Bosman. “If she has specific evidence, we will follow up on it. But we cannot continue to live with these accusations,” he said, adding the only information the union had been supplied with was a report on farm evictions by Limpopo-based land rights activists Nkuzi.

Bosman dismissed the research as lacking in credibility. But Nkuzi director Lucas Mufamadi said Nkuzi and its affiliates in Mpumalanga, KZN and the Northern Cape had provided the Department of Land Affairs and farmers’ associations with “plenty of information and evidence” on abuses. – Stephan Hofstätter Agri SA and Nafu meet over differences.

In next week’s Bottom Line Lulama Xingwana and Lourie Bosman face off.