by Musa Zondi
IN 2009, De Doorns, which is part of the rich Breede Valley farmland producing all manner of fresh produce in the Western Cape, was engulfed in flames of violence which seemed directed at foreign nationals.
The conflict initially started with a blood-curdling violent incident between a group of BaSotho and Zimbabweans, ostensibly over a woman.
The BaSotho are alleged to have burnt to death seven Zimbabweans whom they had locked in the shack. That was in February. By November, the clashes had flared again and the conflict was wider.
“From 14 to 17 November 2009, roughly 3 000 Zimbabwean nationals (specifically farmworkers) were forcefully displaced from De Doorns (especially Stofland), following the destruction and looting of their dwellings by some South Africans,” stated the report published in 2017, titled “Xenophobia and Outsider Exclusion”.
A report by the University of Witwatersrand’s Forced Migration Studies Programme, published in December 2009, found many causes for the violence including competition between labour brokers, involvement and complicity of local authority members in contractor conflicts and failure of early warning systems.
Labour broking in the agricultural industry matches employers with potential employees and brokers stood to make at least R5 per labourer in 2009. With between 60 and 80 contractors in the area, “brokers and those they recruit divide themselves on the basis of race and nationality” which may have further provided the powder keg as South African contractors were said to be dissatisfied with their Zimbabwean counterparts and were “more affected by lost income than South African farmworkers”.
The violence led to a flurry of activity with government departments, NGOs and other organisations descended on De Doorns and surrounding areas to offer what they thought was appropriate at the time.
One of those departments was the Department of Labour, now re-christened Employment and Labour. Through the Public Employment Services which offers the broking services between employer and potential employees for free, two employees in the nearby Worcester Labour Centre took it upon themselves to convince local farmers and industry that the solution was staring them in the eye.
With the pain and destruction brought on by De Doorns violence lingering, the Public Employment Services official, together with the deputy director of labour centre: operations, started a process in 2017 of engaging employers in the area. Worcester is only 33km from De Doorns and they did not want to be caught unawares if another wave of violence started.
They were not only going to educate the local industry about the benefits of using the department’s Employment Services of South Africa, to recruit but were also going to actively encourage partnerships between the department and industry.
Initially, employers were not too thrilled and lacked confidence in the free services offered by the department but the officials at the Worcester Labour Centre would not be dissuaded. They continued the wooing process, particularly with Langeberg and Ashton businesses.
Their efforts paid off. The employers finally relented and agreed to meet the department. A meeting on March 8 2018, where Langeberg and Ashton, which are part of Tiger Brands, afforded the department the opportunity to engage with all the communities surrounding the Worcester area. The main aim to address the unemployment rate in the area.
Tiger Brands (Langeberg and Ashton) employs a large number of seasonal workers, nine to 12 months a year, depending on the fruit to be picked and processed. A partnership was born and, in reflection, Phillipe Olivier of Tiger Brands said one of the best outcomes of the partnership was that it has replaced the “phenomenon of work seekers standing at factory gates” as they could be processed by the department and placed in emerging opportunities.
It also means that the workers who are engaged for the peak season have the necessary training as they are picked through the department’s Essa database, depending on the type of fruit.
The partnership has made it possible to:
Share the database of seasonal employees and thus help create additional employment.
Create a profile of each seasonal position in respect of skills and training required.
Map the skills of the seasonal employee pool.
Offer an opportunity for other employers to tap into the database as recruitment tool for more permanent positions.
Since the partnership went into effect, on average 3500 to 3 900 people have been placed with the companies.
“Our offering has proved to be quick, It is free and is being rolled out the country through our the department’s employment centres and visiting points,” said DDG Sam Morotoba who heads PES.
“Through these partnerships, our Inspection and Enforcement Services experts are able to assist companies other labour relations issues and ensure that the companies do the right thing and they are compliant with all the labour legislation.”
The team, because of huge numbers of recruitment, shared their job opportunities with other struggling area, like Beaufort West, Mossel Bay, Paarl and Cape Town Labour Centres.
Celebrating the partnership, Deputy Minister Boitumelo Moloi has thanked the companies for showing faith in the department.
She called the partnership “not only the epitome of a successful public private partnership but a blueprint of how we can work together to ensure that we create employment opportunities for the people of this land”.
She added: “These companies recognise that we share the same destiny – their success is our success. This goes beyond the social licence to operate but starts to talk to sustainability because no company can operate in the sea of poverty and destitution. Sustainability is beyond just numbers but the realisation that companies have a role to play in the development of areas where they operate.”
The companies represented said they were committed to ensuring that they helped in the development of the areas and were committed to ensuring that local workers were given preference.
* Zondi is the acting chief director at the Department of Employment and Labour
** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media.