Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, the chairperson of South Africa’s portfolio committee on agriculture, land reform and rural development, says he is extremely encouraged by the many positive developments in the agriculture sector and the positive attitude of true patriot farmers and farmworkers. Yet he has personally witnessed, as recently as last week, how some farmworkers are exploited.
He was part of a joint parliamentary oversight committee on labour and agriculture who visited farms in North West and Gauteng and found many accounts of producers not paying their workers the prescribed minimum wage.
In an exclusive interview with Food For Mzansi, the grandson of former president Nelson Mandela details what he has seen and his views on the state of South Africa’s farming sector.
Duncan Masiwa: The plight of farmworkers is well known in Mzansi. What are your thoughts on a sector that allows this?
Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela: In the main, the joint oversight visit between the parliamentary agriculture and labour committees stems not only from our mandate but also our support of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for a social compact between all stakeholders if we are to realise the potential of the agriculture sector and enhance its contribution to the national economy, fight poverty, eliminate hunger and address prevailing food insecurity.
In a few days we will commemorate International Mandela Day but, also, we are reminded of the failed insurrection of July 2021. We must draw on the example of my grandfather, President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who rallied the nation in the moment of its greatest crisis to step away from the abyss and commit to national reconciliation, nation building and social cohesion.
The agriculture economy is a microcosm of our national reality; replete with immense potential and fatally flawed with some of the vestiges of our horrid past. Many farm owners and farmworkers have found dignified and sustainable solutions to the issues of security of tenure, decent wages, skills development and economic transformation. However, our oversight has found many infringements on the basic human rights of farmworkers and farm dwellers.
Some of these arise from alleged dereliction of duty on the part of the officials of the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development who have never conducted inspections in some areas, including some of the farms we visited in North West. This is a challenge we have to address as a matter of urgency.
We are extremely encouraged by the many positive developments in the agriculture sector and the positive attitude of true patriot farmers and farmworkers. However, there are serious concerns and we have witnessed first hand some of the violations of the legal prescripts of our Constitution.
This is especially true in the case of the wage regime in which many farmworkers are exploited and accept slave wages out of sheer desperation.
The other area of concern relates to security of tenure where long-term farm dwellers or farmworkers have been “legally” evicted through a court judgment yet they have been living on those farms for 30 to 40 years.
That is a travesty and it mainly arises from ignorance, lack of legal representation and poor support from the relevant government department.
Many farmers report that they cannot afford the national minimum wage due to various reasons, including rising input costs. Isn’t it time for a subsidy strategy that provides struggling farmers with wage relief?
This is a complex issue and rising cost is a reality that we have to live with. This does not, however, exonerate anyone from compliance with the law. Rising costs affect all of us.
The tragedy is that many good-centred farmers are falling foul because of poor compliance application. In some cases, we have found a variance of 9 cents or 19 cents that renders the employer non-compliant. We need to sort out such marginal issues.
You’ve seen the conditions under which farmworkers work and live. Who is failing these unsung heroes of agriculture and how is this rectified?
Again, the challenge is to ensure that those tasked with the implementation of the law do their job. In 2018 the Human Rights Watch report titled Grapes of Wrath highlighted the plight of farmworkers and farm dwellers in the Western Cape and these abuses are evident in other sectors of the agriculture value chain.
The only solution is to ensure that we advance the broad goals of the social compact in the agriculture sector so that we can respond as a collective and find viable and sustainable solutions. There is no place for such horrific violations of human dignity in a democracy.
The sector has a skills shortage dilemma. What are your recommendations? How can we level up unskilled agri workers?
This is true of all sectors of our economy but more so of the agriculture sector, where the legacy issues and vestiges of slavery, colonialism and Apartheid are still evident.
The department of agriculture, land reform and rural development has made massive strides in this respect, and the AgriSETA as well.
We must, however, ensure that, to preserve the dignity of farmworkers, we afford them and their children the opportunity to acquire a good education and to be able to explore greater opportunities in the sector as well as beyond.
This is an area where we have to bring the social compact in the agricultural sector to bear. We must have greater cooperation between government, the private sector and stakeholders in the agriculture sector to upskill farmworkers and farm dwellers. This is especially true in the agritech industries and agri marketing where there are major opportunities.
What’s the portfolio committee on agriculture, land reform and rural development’s vision for agriculture in the country?
Our vision is informed by the constitutional provision that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”. To realise this vision requires us to transform the agriculture sector to reflect the demography of our beautiful country and to create opportunities for all.
In his first address to Parliament on 10 May 1994, President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela reminded us of this vision when he said, “Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each, the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfil themselves.”
We know that the future of this country depends upon the fulfilment of this vision so that we may bring an end to suffering, hunger and poverty.
Agriculture holds huge potential for addressing the endemic poverty and food insecurity that is staring us in the face. In his Sona address earlier this year, President Ramaphosa reminded us of our collective responsibility to harness the potential of the agriculture sector and to work together for its realisation.
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