Are farm workers’ rights a convenient diversion?

Cyril Ramaphosa’s reprimand of farmers in the Boland must have come as a shock. Wasn’t Ramaphosa supposed to be ‘a champion for commercial farmers’?

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So, evictions might not be happening in the manner Cosatu describes, but they DO take place. But since it is claimed they are done lawfully, unless the law is changed, farmers are within their rights. Changing the law will most likely force farmers across the country and across all races to abandon farming.

What we should be asking is why farmers think it necessary to evict farm workers. Is it a matter of affordability, fear of increasingly unfriendly labour and tenant laws, or fear of losing farms to farm workers? Allaying farmers’ fears instead of stoking the fire might see better long-term results, as it will address those issues that have an impact on the profitability of farming.

Our farmers have to compete on the international market. Product quality and price determines their success, and this success is dependent on many factors: the quality and price of labour, electricity, fuel, technology, available infrastructure, and more. In addition, it is dependent on the successful deployment of state resources.

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Instead, we have unreliable power, a failing school system, an ailing transport network, one of the highest unemployment figures in the world…need I go on?

Ramaphosa, the businessman, understands that agriculture needs an enabling economic environment to thrive. The ANC knows this, and heck, even Ehrenreich and his cadres might know. But agriculture and the country as a whole also need a stable political and social environment. And at this point, it seems that the majority want to hear about increased rights for workers and how workers lives are improving.

This is why it’s so baffling that a government that knows its people so well will make seemingly shady deals with Russia for expensive nuclear power stations, allow millions spent on a private residence for Zuma to go unchallenged and implement e-tolls without discussing it with its citizens. It takes a certain kind of stubbornness to continue dictating to farm workers what it is they want, when those very farm workers, who have formed their own organisation, tell you to take a hike.

But politics will be politics. One can only hope that the short-sightedness of it all doesn’t prevent South Africa from reaching its true potential.

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