Sikhula Sonke

Sunday, Apr 20th

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Case work

Changes happen

When Sikhula Sonke came to one farm, there they produce grapes to one of the big wine cellars in Stellenbosch, the first time the working and living conditions were really poor.

The workers who live on the farm had no bathrooms, no toilets or running water. There was a tank in the yard that all residents took water from, a tank that has never been cleaned and the water was so dirty that it was possible to see the small particles in it. The residents had to boil and strain it before it was possible to drink it. The power wires were hanging open; windows were missing glass and instead covered with plastic. Many of the houses had only one room, where the whole family had to sleep and eat. They cooked over an open fire and only two of the families had a refrigerator. There was a small shop on the farm with fresh goods, but it was very expensive.

It was just the men who got working clothes, a couple of simple work shoes and a work overall. The women were forced to work in their own clothes. When pesticides were used there was no equipment available, which is required by law. Wages were below the legal minimum limit and there were no toilets or drinking water available in the workplace.

The first years Sikhula Sonke organized on the farm they focused on providing information on rights, try to solve internal problems between the workers and make contact and establish a relationship with the farmer. From 2008, the majority of workers are members of the union which requires negotiations with the farmer, whom was previously reluctant to cooperate with Sikhula Sonke.

The negotiations brought results. In 2009 the farmer began to renovate the houses. He hired people to build bathrooms with toilets, bath tubs and hot water. He fixed the electrical cables, painted houses, and built extra rooms. The farm dwellers got clean running water. To fix things outdoors, such as building fences or garages, the farmer pays 50% of the materials and labour.

The security in the working place has also improved. Both women and men receiving proper working clothes and working shoes. The farmer fixed insurance for illness and death, and because this required a health tests, were all tested for HIV. The farm dwellers are now getting transportation to the doctor and the farmer has created a pension fund so that workers can get a more decent pension on the date they become too old to work. Wages have increased from R250 to R320 weekly for the general workers.
Today, the farmer also provides transportation to children to school if it rains.

When will democracy come for farm workers/dwellers?

t has been sixteen years since our democratic elections and things are getting worse for the majority of people working and living on farms.

 “I am angry and I am starting to feel something that I’ve never experienced before and it is because of these people.” This is the words of a wounded woman that live on one of the farms that Sikhula Sonke is working on. The people she’s talking about are the commercial farmers. She continued by saying...”My child wants to drop out of school, because he is afraid that one day he will come out of school, just to find out that we do not live here anymore. His aunt and two other families vanished like that and their are now living in squatter camps with their families in the most appalling conditions. They accept a low sum of money, because they could not stand the intimidation and victimisation anymore. People on some farms are forced to take a low sum of money, that can’t even buy affordable housing.

 The reason for this, are that space are been made available for guest houses or rental houses and that leaves our farm people without accommodation and out in the street, under bridges and next to grave yards. More and more farm people become squatters next to the road or railways. When the union become out spoken and exposing the bad farmers, we are threatened with court interdicts.

 Looking at one of the eldest, that was interviewed I could not help noticing the tears in his eyes when he said:” I started this farm and I also build this farm and I thought that maybe one day, when I leave here, I will leave with something in my hands. But now I don’t know, I came here bare hands and it looks likes if I’m going out bare hands too. I made up my mind and I’m going nowhere unless they buy a house for me and my family.”

Asking them what it is they wanted, they said:” We want to be respected, treated with dignity, acknowledgement that the farm is what it is because of us. We want our children to be left alone and for them to know that we also have a right to family life. If they can’t do that, to build or buy us houses so that we can live in peace with our families.” Mixed emotions playing off on the face of the old man as she says it is us, the farm worker that feed the nation and yet our children and families starve.Kopia_av_Kitty_liten

One of our new members

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He has lived and worked on the farm for 38 years, since he was 19. He has no contract for the house he lives in; there is the farm owner who owns it and the whole plot. The house looks quite a good from the outside, but appearances are deceptive. It's raining in, doors are missed indoors, there is no insulation, flakes of paint inside has fallen off and the floor is in cement. The shower has never worked and there is no bath.

There is a toilet, the pump does not always work properly, but it usually works at least once a day. They have drink water in a tank in the yard, the tank is not so clean and it is not always replenished every 14 days as they are told. He has drowned the electricity to the house by his own; the cables are hanging open, very dangerous for children playing there. His daughter and her two sons in primary school age have moved in since her husband left her.

He has no employment contract, which means that he has nothing to set to against the boss if he want to evacuate him or not pay a pension when he gets older (it is not unusual to be thrown out and left with nothing on the day you get ill or too old ).
He earns 1600 rand a month, 7.5 rand / hour, which is above the minimum wage, but difficult to live on.

The biggest problem is the transport; it is a small farm with only nine employees and is 15 km to the nearest town. There are no buses or taxis and it is seldom they get a lift by a farm owner, the boss. That means they have to hitchhike every weekend to get into town and buy food and do other staff.
When he was sick a few years ago he asked the farm owner if he could get a lift to the hospital, the boss looked at his diary, said next week. But he needed to get there directly! Even if he could get a lift by hitchhike to the nearest town, it is not big enough for a good hospital so he would probably have to hitchhike on and might not be able to come home the same day. Where would he sleep?

Genoeg is genoeg, enough is enough! After 38 years it is finally brightening for a change for this man, and not least security, insurance for his future. He sign the membership of Sikhula Sonke and they will uncompromisingly fight for his rights.