Supporting land rights for South Africa’s farm workers

Blog |April 2, 2015 |Precious Greehy

Earlier this month, Programme Officer Precious Greeley and her team travelled to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape of South Africa to talk with farm workers about their participation in South Africa’s Land Reform Process.

Below, Precious reflects on the stories they heard and the ongoing struggle to secure the rights of local communities.

Eastern Cape governance discussions at the Rhodes University

Eastern Cape governance discussions at the Rhodes University

Travelling alongside ECARP (the Eastern Cape Agricultural Research Project) who co-hosted the engagement sessions with us, we came to Grahamstown hoping to understand more about how farm workers are fighting for their land rights under the government’s Land Reform Process, aimed at addressing historic inequalities in land ownership in South Africa.

One of the Grahamstown group was 65-year-old Mr Ncanywa, whose family has lived and worked on the same farm for four generations. He painted a dire picture of conditions for farm workers in the Eastern Cape and told us that many of them never received leases for their land, as promised under the Reform Process. He also shared concerns that the government is bringing in people from other parts of the province to settle, without consulting the local farm workers, who are worried that this will lead to competition for land and resources, and potentially, to conflict.

But the farm workers are mobilising to fight for their land rights and demand action. Mr Ncanywa and other farm workers in his area are now part of Phakamani Siyephambili, an organisation of farm workers and small-scale farmers in the Cacadu and Amathole districts of the Eastern Cape.

Earlier this year, they blocked officials from the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR) from coming to the farms to survey for new settlements, and lobbied for inclusion in relocation and settlement planning in their area.

Masifunde service delivery protest at the Makana Municipal Offices

Masifunde service delivery protest at the Makana Municipal Offices

So far, the group have been successful in halting the move of additional people onto the farm land without consultation, and have submitted a complaint to the Public Protector asking for investigation into how land reform is affecting indigent communities in the Eastern Cape.

After the meeting, our team reflected on Mr Ncanywa’s story, and on comments by Esinako Hintsa, one of the Eastern Cape’s thought leaders, who said:

While we wait for the government to empower the rural Eastern Cape, the economy is declining, people are getting poorer, crime rate’s increasing, education is declining. There is no science behind this, it’s logical and it’s painful. So now we wait, we wait until someone will eventually notice the need for change.

Citizens discussing Eastern Cape governance and development issues

Citizens discussing Eastern Cape governance and development issues

The group of workers we met on this trip have found some solutions to their governance issues through collective action but, speaking with other groups in Grahamstown and the rest of the Cape, this is one example of successful government engagement, highlighted among a sea of failures.

While it was inspiring to see the group successfully take action for change, their lack of inclusion is a systemic issue and left us asking: how can farm workers ensure that their voices are an integral part of the government’s Land Reform Processes, rather than an afterthought addressed only when disruptive action is taken?

About the author

Precious Greehy is Programme Officer for Making All Voices Count