‘Long way to go to empower women in SA agriculture’

At 28, labour and employment law specialist Lebogang Sethusha is one of Agri SA’s youngest employees. She speaks candidly about the position of women in the sector declaring, “We, as women, cannot continue pounding against the glass ceiling”

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It was Kathy Calvin, former president and chief executive of the United Nations Foundation, who said that young people weren’t the leaders of tomorrow. They are, indeed, the leaders of today and tomorrow. While they have never even met, Calvin could easily have been talking about Lebogang Sethusha, a labour and employment law specialist at Agri SA.

Lebogang Sethusha has worked for Agri SA for two years. She celebrated her two-year agri birthday at the end of August. Photo: Supplied/ Food For Mzansi

At 28, she is not only one of the youngest employees of Agri SA, but also a key player on which the farming community relies for expert analysis on labour policy and law. She also advises the organisation’s members on the implications and the constitutionality of tricky matters, and represents them in Parliament and at other public forums.

In an interview with Food For Mzansi, Sethusha shares what intrigues her the most about agriculture and she speaks candidly about the position of women in the sector.

Sinesipho Tom: Why did you choose agriculture?

Lebogang Sethusha: I wish I had a grand story but it’s more like agriculture chose me. I come from a family of mostly subsistence farming. Whether it was my grandparents’ small, livestock farm or my mother’s vegetable garden at home, she was very passionate about growing our own food.

What most intrigued me about agriculture was that it’s one of the [very] few sectors we interact with daily. There has been no time in the history of mankind that agriculture did not play a central role. Whether it’s through the food we eat, clothes we wear or medicines we use, traditional or modern.

Therefore, our wellbeing is situated firmly in the hands of the important work our farmers and farmworkers wake up to do every day, and with my love for labour law, this is a partnership we should keenly protect.

Where did you study and what qualifications do you have?

I obtained my LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand. Thereafter, I practised as a legal advisor until I completed my articles of clerkship at a labour and commercial law firm. I am currently pursuing my LL.M through Unisa.

The national minimum wage for farmworkers was increased earlier this year, and it will almost also certainly be a hot topic in the next few months. Do you believe the decision by employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi to raise the minimum wage was justified despite the backlash he received from farmers and agricultural organisations, including Agri SA?

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The crux of the matter is weighing the financial needs of workers receiving a living wage and keeping farms, especially our small to medium farms, financially viable for those very same farmworkers to remain employed.

The concern raised was that the double-digit increase that hit agriculture last year was done against the backdrop of the sector’s recovery from lockdown regulations, drought conditions and some sub-sectors’ struggling under the burden of the pandemic itself.

Therefore, with a great number of farmers still trying to absorb the current national minimum wage, we need our minister to make sure that the minimum wage is sustainable and does not adversely affect the same workers it tries to protect.

Do you believe that enough is being done to accommodate women in agriculture?

Although agriculture has a wealth of female leadership, the sector still has a long way to go. I was fortunate enough to have access to great women at Agri SA, but we need to be intentional about mentoring and subsequently giving women the space to lead in strategic positions within the sector.

We, as women, cannot continue pounding against the glass ceiling wherein on the other side, policies that will affect us are being formed without us. This will lead to sustaining a system that affects us but does very little to bring change for us. Such systems and polices cannot maintain their validity.

ALSO READ: Meet agri lawyer Katlego Ngwane, the ‘legal boeremeisie’

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