The Western Cape minister of agriculture Dr Ivan Meyer has strongly condemned the transportation of farmworkers on trucks after a deadly crash rocked the Breede Valley yesterday.
The death toll in the accident at Kannetvlei, between Worcester and De Doorns, has now risen to three, according to Thoko Didiza, the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development. Nearly 40 female workers were injured after they were flung off the back of a four-ton truck when the driver allegedly lost control of the vehicle. At least 20 sustained serious injuries.
“Transporting farmworkers on the back of trucks is not on, and I cannot condone it or support it. It is not in line with the principles of dignity,” said Meyer in an interview with Food For Mzansi.
The province’s transport spokesperson, Jandré Bakker, said it is understood that the driver lost control during heavy rains.
Cries filled the air as the injured, who were later taken to Worcester hospital, came to terms with the gruesome accident. A cell phone video of the aftermath was widely shared on social media.
Anyone who still transports agricultural workers on the back of trucks will be dealt with, said Meyer.
“The transportation protocols during this (Covid-19) period have been amended. People need to be transported safely with a minimum number of workers. In the Western Cape we have adopted the principle of human dignity and we believe there must be severe consequences for anyone not abiding by these protocols.”
Meyer indicated that farmworkers were currently particularly vulnerable as agriculture is considered an essential service during the pandemic.
“I strongly condemn any act of transporting the workers beyond the truck’s capacity. It must stop, and it must stop immediately.”
From a dignity perspective beyond Covid-19, he pleaded with farmers to rethink the transportation of their workers.
“I want to thank those farmers who are using buses and more decent and humane types of vehicles to transport farmworkers. But transporting farmworkers on trucks is no longer on,” he said.
Both Meyer and Didiza conveyed their condolences with the families of the deceased.
“This is a very difficult period amid covid-19 to lose lives in such a manner. We are deeply saddened by this because, to us, a farmworker’s death is a great loss because of the contribution they make to food security. We are deeply saddened,” said Meyer.
Responsibility of farmers
Lien Visagie, chairperson of Partners in Agri Land Solutions (PALS), a private land reform initiative, shared Meyer’s sentiments.
She told Food For Mzansi, “Trucks are not safe for any human being or animal, and I am concerned about it. Every owner of a farm must think about the safety of their workers when they send them on trips.”
Visagie said, firstly, farmers need to examine the safety of the vehicles used. “Is the truck safe? Is it in a good working condition? Does the driver have a correct license? Is he in a position to drive? Is he sober?”
The PALS chairperson said that South Africans were already experience major loss as the Covid-19 death toll surpassed 30 000 people. She described the death of the three Meerlust farmworkers as unnecessary. “How many children don’t have parents because of this accident? It is actually very terrible.”
Didiza also called on urgent interventions by agricultural stakeholders about the transportation of workers. “The death of one farmworker is one too many. We need to avoid such accidents at all costs by looking at how to better their transport conditions. We call on the law enforcement agencies to urgently investigate the cause of this accident.”