Home News Farmworkers: ‘Why aren’t we first in vaccine line?’

Farmworkers: ‘Why aren’t we first in vaccine line?’

Farmers and their workers are disappointed that they’re not a top priority for the Covid-19 vaccine. A farmworker says, ‘All this time we were important and good enough, so what’s the problem now?’

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Farmers and their workers might have been categorised as essential during the Covid-19 lockdown, but they have been overlooked in the vaccine scrum as government prioritised healthcare workers.

A Western Cape farmworker, Jason Baartman, says he is saddened that agriculture has not been included on the priority list.

Jason Baartman, a production assistant in the apple nursery division of Laastedrif Agri in Ceres in the Western Cape. Photo: Supplied
Jason Baartman, a production assistant in the apple nursery division of Laastedrif Agri in Ceres in the Western Cape. Photo: Supplied

The first million doses of AstraZeneca arrived in South Africa yesterday, but agricultural workers will only get the job along with the next round of vaccinations for essential workers.

Last night, during his announcement on adjusted coronavirus regulations, Ramaphosa reiterated that about 1.5 million healthcare workers will be first in line.

The other 2.5 million essential workers, including teachers, miners and agricultural workers, will then be targeted.

‘Farmworkers forgotten’

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Baartman, a production assistant in the apple nursery division of Laastedrif Agri in Ceres, believes farmworkers should’ve been on the first list.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, they were on the front line ensuring that the nation is fed.

He tells Food For Mzansi, “This saddens me. It tells me how important they think agriculture actually is. We are the suppliers of food, so why aren’t we on that first priority list?

“They (government) are forgetting about us in agriculture. It isn’t only the healthcare workers that are tired. It has been difficult for us on the farms as well.”

“Limited access to healthcare, inability to quarantine, and the lack of paid sick leave puts workers at risk of covid-19.”

Jacintha September, a farmworker at De Grendel Wine Estate in Cape Town. Photo: Supplied
Jacintha September, a farmworker at De Grendel Wine Estate in Cape Town. Photo: Supplied

Jacintha September, a farmworker at De Grendel Wine Estate in Cape Town, says she too was disappointed to hear that neither she or her colleagues were being prioritised.

“I would like to know why we do not form part of the priority roll-out (list). We, as farmworkers, have the biggest impact on the country’s economy, but still it seems that we are not being valued. It is very unfair.”

Sivenathi Ndzakayi from the Citrus Foundation Block in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied
Sivenathi Ndzakayi from the Citrus Foundation Block in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied

Another worker, Sivenathi Ndzakayi from the Citrus Foundation Block in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, says government is being unfair towards those who placed their lives at risk during the pandemic.

“By travelling to work and being out there on the fields, we also placed our family members at risk.

“I even lost two family members within two days while I was working. It’s unfair that we are not on the front line of receiving these vaccinations with the nurses,” he says.

ALSO READ: Are farmworkers prepared for retirement?

‘We feed the nation’

“It is very wrong. They can’t just exclude us all of a sudden,” says Bradwin Jonas, a labourer from Rietfontein in the Great Karoo.

“We’ve been keeping the country going by putting food on the table, but now we are not being prioritised. All this time we were important and good enough, so what’s the problem now?

“Agricultural workers have been working non-stop since the start of the pandemic, waking up early in the morning to work on the land,” says Jonas.

Furthermore, Alicia Flink from Haygrove Heaven, a farm in Hermanus in the Western Cape, says while she is concerned about the roll-out plan, she has no intention of being vaccinated.

Alicia Flink from Hermanus in the Western Cape says she will not be taking the Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: Supplied
Alicia Flink from Hermanus in the Western Cape says she will not be taking the Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: Supplied

“If I’m honest, I’m not bothered that others are first in line because, in any case, I don’t want this vaccine at all. Thanks to God I have not tested positive yet, but when it comes down to it, I believe God’s time is His time,” she says.  

‘Workers at risk’

Meanwhile the prioritisation of farmworkers for the Covid-19 injection is currently a hot topic of discussion across the globe.

The US-based Farmworker Justice says due to their working and living conditions, labourers are at substantially high risk of Covid-19 exposure. 

“In the fields, orchards, dairy farms, and produce packing houses, farmworkers must often work close to each other with limited access to protective equipment or sanitation supplies.

Many farmworkers share transportation to and from the fields and, due to their low wages, often live in crowded, shared housing,” says BA Snyder, founder of the Veritas Group for Farmworker Justice. She also believes farmworkers should be prioritised for vaccines.

“Limited access to healthcare, inability to quarantine, and the lack of paid sick leave availability means that workers are more likely to work when Covid-19 positive.

Workers are also at higher risk for Covid-19 complications due to poor health outcomes, including diabetes and heart disease, among other chronic conditions.”

ALSO READ: ‘Your farmworkers aren’t cattle’

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Duncan Masiwa
Duncan Masiwa
DUNCAN MASIWA is a budding journalist with a passion for telling great agricultural stories. He hails from Macassar, close to Somerset West in the Western Cape, where he first started writing for the Helderberg Gazette community newspaper. Besides making a name for himself as a columnist, he is also an avid poet who has shared stages with artists like Mahalia Buchanan, Charisma Hanekam, Jesse Jordan and Motlatsi Mofatse.
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