‘Farmers should accept unions as partners’ – Nosey Pieterse

Nosey Pieterse is the secretary general of the Building and Allied Workers’ Union of SA. He is also an emerging pig farmer. He entered the limelight during the violent farm worker strikes in late 2012 and early 2013 in the Western Cape.

‘Farmers should accept unions as partners’ – Nosey Pieterse
Nosey Pieterse
Photo: Denene Erasmus
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What do you make of government’s 50/50 land proposal?
The Building and Allied Workers’ Union of South Africa (Bawusa) has been working with government all along in terms of policy development. We attended all meetings and workshops. Initially, we were a bit sceptical about the 50/50 proposal, but as the policy was developed and government started listening to us and incorporated our concerns, we became very supportive of it.

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We can see where it’s going. It speaks to economic empowerment and workers claiming real ownership of the farms. We hope that there will be positive spin-offs in terms of productivity on the farms. I’m very confident that the 50/50 proposal will be implemented.

What are Bawusa’s thoughts on the 12 000ha land cap proposal?

I see the cap as reasonable. I believe that it really is. But there must be some flexibility around it. If there is some justification in terms of the conditions of your farm for you to have more than 12 000ha, there should be a motivation for it. It’s the same with the minimum wage: there’s flexibility in that government can be approached [for exemptions].

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What are your thoughts on Minister Nkwinti’s statements on a 5 000ha cap?
There are lots of farmers who have got too much land, yet we have people who don’t even have an RDP house. We support the proposed land cap as a matter of principle.

Have the conditions of farm workers in the Western Cape changed following the strikes in late 2012 and early 2013?
Those 21 demands [that farm workers raised] are being discussed with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and it’s my responsibility to keep the government accountable. Farmers must understand that they have a responsibility when it comes to keeping peace and stability on their farms. There’s still a lot of unhappiness and many short-term issues that still need to be addressed. Farmers are employing foreigners [and not seasonal workers], which might lead to another outburst of xenophobic attacks on the farms – and we saw what happened in 2008.

Is your problem with the legal employment of foreigners? Or do you have evidence of illegal employment?
I would say that in the whole of De Doorns, farmers are not employing South Africans or Lesotho nationals who took part
in the strikes of 2012 and 2013. I think that’s vindictive on the part of the farmers. There’s a lot of argument as to whether foreign nationals are documented or illegal, so I can’t really tell you what their legal status is.

Is government doing enough to support smallholder farmers? What role can it play in the country’s agricultural industry?
Members of Bawusa work closely with smallholder farmers who don’t have agricultural experience or who do not come from an agricultural background. It’s shocking. There has to be strict selection criteria when it comes to who benefits from government’s land reform programmes and who doesn’t. It has to be the best people who benefit – you cannot bring somebody on board who does not have a feeling for the soil. Government also has to have meetings with these people on a regular basis, and must also provide them with technical skills and capacitation.

What are Bawusa’s thoughts on the state of agriculture in South Africa? How are we fairing?
South Africa is facing a lot of challenges, but none of those challenges is insurmountable. We really need a partnership and we don’t have partners. We are singing solo. The farmers are not coming to the table. They must come and talk about the legitimate [demands] of unions and move away from the tactics of apartheid days.

The farmer must see the unions as his partner, not his enemy. Our interdependence has to bring us together. Unions can never be wished away, and farmers have to accept that. They would love to be without unions, but that won’t happen. Accept unions as partners and that will go a long way towards unifying us. We are not the enemy. We have the same interests as them – and that is prosperous farmers. There’s a bright future for agriculture. We can’t do anything about natural disasters.

Could you elaborate on the challenges that farmers face. Are they being addressed?
We submitted 21 demands to farmers [in De Doorns] during the strike for better wages and living conditions. These demands were supported by labour federation Cosatu and other stakeholders. However, we have been experiencing the refusal by these farmers to come to the negotiating table to try to find common ground. These are some of the challenges I’m alluding to.

Are you engaging with agriculture stakeholders such as Afasa, Grain SA and TAU SA to discuss potential partnerships?
We are in the process of developing good working relations with these bodies. However at the moment we are not in any partnership with any of them.

How is your piggery doing?
It is doing very well. Very soon, within a year or so, I will become a commercial farmer. I started farming before the strike.

Email Nosey Pieterse at [email protected].

This article was originally published in the 29 May 2015 issue of Farmer’s Weekly.