A recent road accident that left over 30 farmworkers injured has again sparked public outcry over the inhumane way farmworkers are transported in South Africa. Those engaged in the farming sector have once more made an appeal to government to put a stop to farmworkers being transported on open trucks and bakkies.
On the morning of Monday, 20 June, 35 farmworkers were injured when the truck that transports them to work overturned on the R45 between Klapmuts and Simondium in the Cape Winelands. No fatality but one major injury was reported.
Last year, more than 70 seasonal workers were injured, also near Klapmuts. In an unrelated incident between Worcester and De Doorns, three farmworkers died when 40 women were flung off the back of a four-tonne truck when the driver allegedly lost control of the vehicle.
In January this year, about 80 farmworkers were involved in a truck accident near Paarl after the truck which transported them to work overturned on the R44.
“For many years we have been observing our people being transported like animals at the back of these trucks. Come rain or sunshine, nothing changes,” says Xolisani Booi, a community leader and a small-scale farmer in George.
To Booi, the most recent incident in Klapmuts came as no surprise.
“We have been warning against this for some time now. All our efforts fall on deaf ears. This is an exploitation of desperate farmworkers who have no choice but to board these trucks.”
He has called on farmers and the department of employment and labour to find a solution before a far worse accident happens.
Situation remains unchanged
Jannie Strydom, CEO of Agri Western Cape, tells Food For Mzansi that the transportation of farmworkers is an ongoing issue that they have been working on for years.
“We are very open to taking hands with all relevant parties to try and find practical solutions to this issue. The safety of farmers and farmworkers and their families will always be a priority to us.”
Agri Western Cape has met with relevant parties on numerous occasions, and even appeared before a portfolio committee to try and find some type of solution, Strydom says. However, the fate of farmworkers transported on the back of trucks and bakkies remains unchanged in the province.
Meanwhile, Billy Claasen, executive director for the Rural and Farmworkers Development Organisation, says that when his non-profit organisation, and others, attended a provincial government meeting on this issue, they were not allowed to give inputs.
Since then, they have made numerous calls to the police, provincial and local traffic officials to report overloaded farm trucks. “But nothing has been done. Some farmers and some labour contractors just don’t care and will soon again overload trucks.”
According tom him, many farmers and workers did not even adhere to Covid-19 safety protocols when transporting workers.
“Farmworkers are not important enough for the government and are just used by some farmers to get filthy rich. We still await the president to fulfil his promises to meet with farmworker NGOs and labour unions. He have met with farmers on several occasions and platforms but we still wait on his promises.”
The way in which farmworkers are currently being transported is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated anymore, Claasen says.
“We appeal to the president and the ministers of labour and agriculture to put a stop to this inhumane transportation of farmworkers on open trucks and bakkies. This we have pleaded for years now, and nothing has been done.”
Farming unions speak out
Denico Dube, deputy general secretary of the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU), believes there is no appetite from farmers and the ethical bodies to change the mode of transport for agricultural workers.
“It is sad and hurtful to hear that some of our people were again in an accident due to the lack [will] in farmers to upgrade the mode of transport of farmworkers.”
Dube believes that the only solution to this phenomenon is for farmworkers to be unionised.
“The lack of public transport in the rural areas is also to blame. We should put it before the door of the government. Hence still today, farmworkers are being transported like animals at the back of bakkies and trucks.”
Also, it should be clear that farmworkers can’t afford to pay for their own reliable transport to and from work, Dube says.
Meanwhile, Cosatu in the Western Cape has called on the minister of employment and labour to ban the transportation of farmworkers on trucks. “We are also calling on the law enforcement agencies to thoroughly investigate this matter to ensure that justice is served.
“Cosatu is also calling on the farm owners to look after the families of the injured farmworkers and that they be paid in full while at home due to injuries sustained in the accident,” says Malvern de Bruyn, provincial secretary at Cosatu.
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