Study says more blacks evicted from farms since 1994

Associated Press Writer

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) _ More workers have been evicted from South African farms since the advent of multiracial democracy in 1994 than in the 10 years before that, according to a new survey.

The survey, which was presented to parliament Tuesday (August 30), said that 1.7 million people — nearly all uneducated blacks with little knowledge of their legal rights — had been thrown off farms where housing often came with jobs in the past 20 years: 737,114 people between 1984 and 1994; and 942,303 people in the subsequent decade.

The government has tried to improve the plight of farm laborers by introducing legislation on minimum wages and tenancy rights. But the authors of the survey painted a miserable picture of wages and living conditions and said most workers were unaware they had any legal protection.

The government also is trying to buy land from whites to redistribute to nonwhites disadvantaged by apartheid, but says progress toward achieving this goal is too slow because white farmers are demanding inflated prices.

“There is still very much a legacy of apartheid coming through,” said Marc Wegerif, one of the authors of the first comprehensive survey on land evictions since a black-led government came to power in 1994.

“It is a continuation of apartheid geography because black people continue today to be removed from white farms in white areas and end up in black townships,” he told The Associated Press after giving evidence to a parliamentary land affairs committee.

“The efforts at land reform are being undermined through evictions,” said Wegerif, of the Nkuzi Development Association.

AgriSA, which represents farmers, said farmers under financial pressure were finding it increasingly difficult to pay workers or even adhere to lengthy rules for legal evictions.

The government has given priority to land reform and wants previously disadvantaged groups — the black and mixed race communities — to own 30 percent of agricultural land by 2014. According to some estimates, white farmers still own 80 percent of farm land, down from 87 percent in 1994.

South African Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has indicated the government wants to abandon the willing buyer, willing seller principal which has so far shaped the land reform process. She has warned that if white farmers are not prepared to compromise, they risk popular pressure for land grabs similar to those in neighboring Zimbabwe.

Some landowners have traditionally shown a paternalistic attitude toward their workers, providing them with free or subsidized housing, basic food and some grazing land. In many parts of the country, apartheid’s legacy of intimidation and exploitation has been slow to die.

Study co-author Bev Russell-Rice said that wages were still as little as 500 rands (US$77, euro63) per month for men and 300 rands (US$46, euro38) for women, less than a government disability grant and well below the minimum wage of 650-800 rands (US$100, euro82) and 800 rands (US$124, euro101).

She said the introduction of the minimum wage in 2003 had led to an upsurge in evictions as farmers decided to get rid of workers and their families rather than increase their salaries at a time when they themselves were under commercial pressure.

“We have failed … as a government we are failing our people,” said Manie Schoeman of the ruling African National Congress during the debate.

The survey, which was based on random sampling of 8,000 households in 75 communities, estimated that there are currently 2.9 million people working on farms and 950,000 living on them. It said the number of farms in South Africa has shrunk from 58,000 in 1992 to 45,000 because of increased pressure on foreign markets.

“Our farmers are competing globally and don’t get subsidized like many in Europe and the United States,” said Annelieze Crosby, parliamentary liaison officer for AgriSA, which represents farmers. “It’s a hard world to compete in.”

Crosby said that although AgriSA told its members to respect the law, the costs of the state-prescribed eviction proceedings were simply too high for many.

“Most farmers are businessmen and they take business decisions based on economic survival,” Crosby said. She said that it should be the responsibility of government to provide housing and other benefits for farm workers who had lost their jobs.

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