South Africa

THE PROMISED LAND: Women on Farms Project calls for moratorium on farm evictions

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Women’s Day address in Paarl in 2018 was disrupted by protesters who called for him to sign a moratorium on farm evictions. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Women’s access to land and their continued eviction from farms was the subject of a webinar held by the Farmworkers and Dweller advocacy group on Tuesday.

“Once a woman has land, her children will never be hungry and her community will never be hungry,” said Colette Solomons, a co-director of the Women on Farms Project during a webinar held on Tuesday 4 August.

The webinar, held by the farmworkers and dweller advocacy group, called for farm women to have access to land and for an end to farm evictions.

Starting off the webinar, co-director Carmen Louw said, “We don’t only find ourselves in Women’s Month, we find ourselves in a time where we’re in a pandemic of a virus.”

Sweetness May stands among her belongings after she and her family were evicted from Windemeul Kelder wine farm in Paarl. They were living on the side of a road opposite the farm they once called home. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Solomons said Covid-19 has highlighted that, “as farmworkers, we are completely dependent on white male farmers for jobs and accommodation”.

She said since 1994 there have been improvements such as labour laws and rights for farmworkers, but the landscape of the agricultural economy needs to change. She pointed out that while white, male farmers now have more money and more rights, the workers – mainly black women who are seasonal workers – “are getting more and more poor”.

As a long-term shift, Solomons said, women’s access to productive land needs to be addressed. She called for women’s access to productive land to be accelerated, as women, in many circumstances, are primarily responsible for food production.

“Once a woman has access to land, her children will never be hungry, her community will never be hungry,” said Solomons.

Also discussed was the promise of a moratorium on evictions, which had been ordered by then-deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa in 2014, according to a report in City Press. But, Louw said, the group was “still waiting on the promises he made many, many years ago”.

One such eviction is that of Fransina Petersen, a mother of three. Petersen was born on a farm in Klapmuts, in the Cape Winelands and worked on the farm. In February 2020, following an eviction order, she was kicked off the farm. She currently lives with her mother-in-law and said, “I sleep in my car, so my children can sleep in the room.”

Explaining how Petersen was removed, Louw said she ended up in a “municipal graveyard – that’s where the sheriff dumped her”.

Read in GroundUp about Petersen’s eviction here and the response by the owner of the farm, Lance Bouma, here

Dawn Jacobs, an activist with the Drakenstein Civic Organisation, said: “It breaks my heart that the president doesn’t want to make a moratorium on evictions.”

She also questioned when expropriation without compensation would occur, saying there were 10 farms without owners within the Drakenstein municipality.

“Why can’t the municipality build houses for farmworkers there?” she asked.

Daily Maverick has previously reported on a march held by Women on Farms calling for an end to evictions:

Farmworkers demand their rights while 20,000 in Drakenstein municipality face evictions

The group submitted a memorandum electronically to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. The memorandum, which Daily Maverick has seen, was addressed to minister Thoko Didiza and deputy minister Mcebisi Skwatsha, and said “due to the various impacts of Covid-19, including the ban on the transportation, export and ban of alcohol sales, thousands of farmworkers, especially women seasonal workers, face imminent job losses. Job losses will inevitably lead to greater numbers of farm evictions.”

The demands include:

Daily Maverick has asked the department to confirm whether it has received the memorandum. When the department responds, Daily Maverick will update this article. DM

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