Ahead of the final voter registration weekend on 3 and 4 February, voter education and empathy for farming communities have become critical as the country gears up for national and provincial elections later this year.
Many experts feel that farmworkers and dwellers cannot be spectators in the upcoming general elections as they need to have their say in the many challenges they face – mostly a lack of development.
‘We are prepared for the farming community’
Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) spokesperson Kate Bapela said they are channelling many resources into farming areas to ensure that voter education is emphasised.
“The IEC has employed more than 2 500 voter education facilitators. These facilitators are employed in all municipalities and service all wards and voting districts. They conduct their interventions in a variety of communities.
“Above that IEC embarks on civic and voter education programmes through the use of SABC radio, community radio, and television. Having all these different mechanisms of promoting voter education ensures that no one is left behind including farming communities,” said Bapela.
Identifying farms and other remote areas
She said the IEC has employed individuals who reside in the area who are familiar with all dynamics of the area, adding that they are therefore able to identify and visit farms and other remote areas that might not be known by non-residents of the area.
Bapela said the Electoral Commission has continuously engaged farm unions, farmer owners, and trade unions to create an understanding of the importance of allowing farming communities to take part in electoral democracy.
“The aim is to plead with farmers to allow their residents and workers to go register and vote in elections. These engagements have yielded positively as some farms are the voting stations and some farm owners even provide transport for their workers and residents to access voting stations,” said Bapela.
Workers need more than promises
Meanwhile, Women on Farms executive Colette Solomon said land redistribution to farms led by women is linked to the broader question of agrarian transformation.
She believes women’s livelihoods as seasonal farmworkers are increasingly precarious. This is further exacerbated by their insecure tenure on farms. Solomon said that farm women have become increasingly sceptical and disillusioned with the party’s political landscape
“Since 1994, various political parties have made promises to farmworkers, only to disappear until the next election. While farmworkers believe in the democratic election process and want to participate, there are growing sentiments among farmworkers to register their dissatisfaction, disappointment, frustration, and even anger by abstaining in the upcoming election.
“For many women farmworkers, there are no political parties they believe will drive their economic, social, and political agenda,” Solomon said.
‘Vote and make a difference’
Billy Claasen, chief executive officer of the Farm Workers Development Organisation, said farmworkers need to go out and register, especially the youth and women. He believes there is a need for them to vote.
“We owe it to our people, children, and the future generations who will still be living on the farms. We need to get rid of leadership that is not there for our people.
“The state of housing for our farmworkers has really worsened under the current government and our leaders do not consider that farmworkers are crippled because of poverty. Farmworkers need to go out and register to make the difference,” Claasen said.
People need to vote
According to Claasen, when farmworkers vote it means that they will be showing signs of wanting to make a difference by having a say in who becomes our government.
“I want to see change, we need change in our country and look out for our community crippled by load shedding and bad infrastructure. These are things that need to be corrected. We need to create opportunities for our women and children living on farms as well, that is why I encourage farmworkers to vote,” Claasen said.
Expert on governance systems in the public sector from the University of Free State (UFS), Dr Harlan Cloete, said that it is important that farmers and farmworkers be knowledgeable about voting.
“Unless farmworkers organise themselves better, they will be left behind. I do not think trust must be in politicians only, but they will have to get their voice back and get their sense of urgency back because people are losing faith in the democratic project in South Africa.”
Rural communities have been neglected
“Politicians have failed them, so they need to make their voices heard. In the Cape Winelands, we see that less than 1% of the land is in black hands. In terms of transformation and the pre-1994 patterns, they are continuing and we see that there is a lack of knowledge in the agri sector and how to access it,” he explained.
Cloete said the country’s democracy is very elitist and it fails those who are not in the elite and it does not empower the poor. “I do think that people living in rural areas have been neglected by the government,” Cloete said.
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