The Congress of South African Trade Unions was shocked to hear of the animals which starved to death after at least two weeks of neglect on the farm owned by NCOP Speaker and former NW Provincial Premier, Thandi Modise. It is now being widely reported that the story has another shocking aspect – super-exploitation of workers.
She told the Sunday Independent, that she was ldquosaddened by the abandonment and trauma the livestock suffered after workers employed on the farm unceremoniously left without notice. The suffering the animals endured does not compare to the financial loss I suffered.”
According to media reports, however, the farm worker did not lsquounceremoniously’ abandon the farm but was forced to leave because he had not been paid and he and his family were starving.
Tebogo Moekaedi, a farm worker interviewed by the Sunday Times, said that when his predecessor on the farm, Shadrack, had left, he warned: “You’re going to suffer hererdquo.
Moekaedi was so desperate for a job however, that he moved in and brought his wife and one-year-old daughter. They shared a single bed, going to bed dressed in all their clothes and wrapping the curtains around them to stave off the biting cold.
An acquaintance, a North West provincial government employee from Mafikeng, gave him a 10kg bag of mealie meal and soap, but then no-one and nothing arrived and the food began to run out and the family were living on water alone. Moekaedi turned to a neighbouring farm worker, David Masobe, who had seen many of his desperate predecessors, and gave the family a small packet of mealie meal and tea.
He also gave Moekaedi R5 airtime, so he could phone his mother, who sent him R400, which enabled the family to travel back to his father-in-law’s house on a farm 150km away.
After 47 days on the farm, he had never been paid and he, his wife, and his daughter nearly starved to death before finally getting away. He left the animals to die purely because he and his family faced starvation if they had stayed there.
This report contradicts Comrade Modise’s statement that her farm manager had left the farm to tend to a family emergency. That worker was Shadrack, the previous workers, but that was nearly two months earlier, before he was succeeded by Moekaedi, who never saw her during that period, contrary to her claim that she visited the farm every two weeks.
The neighbour, David Masobe, told the reporter that a string of workers, never more than two at a time, worked at the farm for months with the promise of R50 a day, but many had walked away empty-handed. One told The Times that when she bought the farm in March 2012, Comrade Modise’s offered to pay them R40 a day. “They reportedly turned down the offer because their previous employer had paid R120 a day”.
COSATU is currently waging a campaign in support of vulnerable workers, which clearly include those like Moekaedi, and recruit them into the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), and also campaigning for a national minimum wage, to put a stop to poverty pay.
If the allegations are proved to be correct, this story illustrates exactly why such campaigns are necessary and urgent. This is not an isolated case, but typical of the way thousands of farm workers and dwellers are super-exploited and abused.
Many of the employers involved are white farm owners who think they still live in the days of apartheid, and that workers can be hired and fired at will, evicted from their homes and paid poverty wages. COSATU in the North West province has discovered numerous such cases, and they are almost certainly the tip of the iceberg.
But – if these allegations are proved to be true – is will be shocking to find that one of the worst employers is a very senior ANC and government leader. As well as pursuing the case of cruelty to animals, the Department of Labour must conduct a thorough investigation into the wages and working conditions of the farm workers, and if the employer is found to be non-compliant, the law must take its course.
They must establish whether workers have received the R2420 minimum monthly wage for farm workers under the sectoral determination and whether the farm complies with occupational health and safety regulations.
COSATU supports the expansion of opportunities for black women farmers, but they must comply with the law and treat their workers legally and fairly.
Progressive political leaders however should never get themselves embroiled in money-making ventures like farming. As COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi told the FAWU Eastern Cape Congress on 11 July 2014, ldquoIt reinforces our insistence that political representatives should not get involved in business. They must choose one or the other, and not try to fight for the poor, while enriching themselves from their businessesrdquo.
Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson), Congress of South African Trade Unions
Source : Congress of South African Trade Unions