Women in the farming community are not insulated from serious and violent crimes on their land, amid the shocking prevalence of gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa.
This emerged during a virtual dialogue hosted by minister in the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Thoko Didiza, where women in the sector reflected on their journeys in the sector.
Didiza concluded Women’s Month with a dialogue addressing challenges faced by women. Various women spoke about overcoming inequality in the sector and paving the way forward.
South Africa has been battling high rates of GBV for years and women in the agricultural value chain are not exempted from violence, said chairperson of the Commission for Gender Equality, Tamara Mathebula.
SA accounts for the highest levels of reported GBV and femicide incidents in the world, Mathebula said. Women on farms are just as exposed to the scourge as their urban counterparts.
She added that agriculture was often marred with accounts of violence and harassment at the hands of deviant men in the sector. Farm owners have been known to demand sexual favours for seasonal work from desperate farm workers.
“If you look at the employment pattern, most of the women on farms (does) the kind of work that is seasonal. Sometimes if you really want to make sure that you (get) work you need to do some sexual favours so that you can be called back to work in the farm at that time of the season,” she said.
Urgent interventions are needed to resolve and protect female worker rights through existing labour policies, Mathebula said.
“We need to first and foremost understand the existence of these policies and laws. If there are sexual harassment incidents, then we are aware that we need to deal with this particular incident.”
A survivor’s story
Women on farms have also not escaped violence in the recent spate of farm attacks.
As vulnerable members of society the level of brutality is severe and women are at more at risk with the added threat of rape, said Didiza.
“Sometimes we are not sitting there expecting a black woman at the helm of the farm because there are assumptions that these are white male farmers,” she said.
Survivor and award-wining farmer Mimmie Barbara Jacobs shared a detailed account of her hour-long ordeal.
In February Jacobs was brutally attacked and threatened with rape on her land in Rosemead near Bloemfontein in the Free State.
Jacobs said that she was watching TV and getting ready to turn in for the evening when her “peace and tranquillity was savagely disrupted.”
Three armed assailants stormed and ransacked her farmstead demanding everything of value. They punched, stabbed, and kicked her into submission, until she acceded to their demands.
“My skull was fractured at three different places and I had a gaping wound where doctors extracted a 5 mm piece of sharp-edged knife broken on impact and remained above my eye.”
“I was threatened with rape and continually reminded that they would kill me,” she said.
This incident had a severe emotional impact on her. “My bodily integrity and my privacy were taken,” Jacobs said.
She has managed to overcome the trauma through the solidarity of the sector.
“Tragic as this incident was, I was amazed by the incredible support by the sector. I consider the attack as a temporary setback and I have decided I will continue farming commercially.
“It will not put me off,” Jacobs said firmly. However, the security of farmers and workers remains a great concern for her.
Didiza added that it was violence like that which Jacobs suffered through that hinders many people from participating and contributing to the country’s food security and economy.
“A very painful story brought to life for us of what happens to many each day. Yesterday we heard of another gruesome murder of a farmer and his dog.”
Technological efforts should be made towards the improvement of food security and the well-being and safety of farmers, she said.
Didiza commended Jacobs on her bravery to rise above the trauma. “Some of the victims never had the opportunity to share their stories, they were buried without even having gotten help.
“The South Africa we want is possible through solidarity, when we move beyond race, gender or creed. All of us are South Africans and all of us want to build this country and therefore each one of us are our brothers and sisters’ keeper.”