by Anton Rabe

Trouble in the Western Cape

Hortgro deplores disruptions in Western Cape agriculture

Hortgro deplores the criminal activities that have taken place in the Western Cape lately regarding farms and farmers
fruit tree.jpg

The recent disruptive and illegal activities that have taken place over the last few weeks in the Western Cape have proved that they are not primarily about wages or farming issues, but that it was instigated by people frustrated in general with not having jobs and issues related to lack of services and infrastructure within rural communities.

Whilst agriculture is willingly playing a leading role in rural communities, and specifically to improve both working and living conditions of farm workers, it is impossible and unrealistic to expect any single sector to address all the social problems in rural areas. 

Hortgro is one of the driving forces within the FruitSA alliance which is pro-actively seeking solutions to the many challenges and real problems faced by farm workers and rural communities.

The Sustainability Initiative South Africa (SIZA) is one example that was recently launched and which received favourable recognition from politicians, labour authorities, trade unions and the trade.

From these initiatives and results from third party independent audits required by the international trade relating to compliance with labour and related legislation, as well as ethical issues within this context, it is clear that many employers go beyond the requirements expected of them. 

From facts extracted from ethical audits since 2008 in the Western Cape, 100% of farms audited comply with minimum wages. Of these farms, 77% pay more than the minimum wage. 

In addition to normal skills development and training programmes, farmers have stepped in voluntarily to provide other support services: 

  • 74% of farms provide free transport; 
  • 47% of farms provide free housing; 
  • 47% of farms provide life-skills and adult basic education and training; 
  • 37% of farms provide crèches and after care facilities for school children; and 
  • 23% of farms have on-site medical facilities. 

From feedback obtained from Hortgro members it is clear that many farmers have suffered extensive losses and that farm owners, management and workers have been traumatised, physically assaulted and intimidated by forces from outside the respective regions.

It appears that outsiders were bussed and taxied into rural areas deliberately which directly led to chaos and anarchy in many places. This left little or no room for stakeholders to amicably agree on the way forward on an enterprise to enterprise basis. 

It is trusted that those who have orchestrated these events and those that have acted illegally and criminally, will be identified and be held accountable not just before the law, but also in the media and by the public.

In the meantime we express our sympathy with and offer support to both farm owners and workers for their suffering and life threatening situations they had to endure in the past week.

We will do everything we can to assist with the restoration of law and order and a stable and safe environment within which we can get on with doing what we do best – producing the best tasting- and looking- fruit in the world! 

We are disappointed in the manner in which Government has responded to the situation to date. In this regard we call on the Ministries of Agriculture, Labour and Trade and Industry, to apply their minds and energy to understanding the root causes of this situation in order to stabilise the sector and promote security, rural development and employment. 

Notwithstanding losses and disruption in operations, we are confident that activities will return to normal following agreement between government and social partners to find solutions over the next few weeks for some of the most critical issues. 

As South Africans we are a resilient lot and we have surprised the world on more than one occasion by finding solutions to the complex issues we face. Be assured that we will be able to do so again together with our loyal work force with whom we have worked side by side over decades and even generations. 

These events have shaken the industry and will lead to a review of long term industry and business strategies. There can be no doubt that the current production and cost structure based on labour intensive practices will change over the short, medium and long term.

The fruit production structure of the Western Cape will never again be the same, but it will survive and will be more resilient. We believe this to be a once-off event if all the stakeholders genuinely wish to find solutions. 

For more detail contact: 

Anton Rabe

083 453 3422  

E-mail: anton@hortgro.co.za 

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