Women farm workers demand meeting with Minister of Agriculture

Women on Farms Project marched to Parliament on Wednesday

By Liezl Human

9 November 2023

Women on Farms Project led a march to Parliament on Wednesday, calling on the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to meet with them. Photo: Liezl Human

About 100 women farm workers and people living on farms marched to Parliament on Wednesday, calling for a meeting with Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza. They wish to discuss issues of food security, land redistribution and agriculture.

The march, organised by the Women on Farms Project (WFP), followed a three-day convention of the National Farm Worker Platform, where various parties discussed farming issues.

Other organisations involved included the Rural Women’s Assembly, the Casual Workers Advice Office, and trade unions.

WFP director Colette Solomon said the organisation had tried to organise a meeting with the minister, but Didiza had never responded to any invitation.

WFP had marched to Parliament last year as well and handed over a memorandum to the minister.

Solomon said Didiza responded to the memorandum but much was deflected to other departments. Issues included problems with the current food system, pesticide exposure for workers on farms, and hunger – all issues that reside with the minister.

On Wednesday, the women handed over another memorandum at Parliament calling for a meeting with the minister, for equitable land redistribution that prioritises rural women, ensuring the phasing out of hazardous pesticides, and transformation of the food system toward more sustainable food production and access to quality food.

The memorandum was received and signed by a representative of the National Assembly who said they would ensure it gets to the minister.

Solomon told the crowd that the minister “disrespected” farm women by not even sending a staff member to receive the memorandum.

Solomon said that farm women are telling the minister she is “accountable to us and you have a duty and responsibility to come meet with us”.

“Despite progressive labour and tenure legislation introduced in a democratic South Africa, farm workers remain poor, marginalised, and vulnerable … Women farm workers and dwellers remain landless, experience evictions, and earn low wages for the increasingly precarious and insecure seasonal work they do on the farms,” the memorandum states.

“The greatest indictment is that the majority of the farm workers who produce the country’s food … often go hungry”.

Speaking outside Parliament, after reading the memorandum aloud, farm worker Laura Boer said that farm workers “just get dismissed”. “How many memorandums? How many?” she asked.

Boer, who works in a Northern Cape factory exporting grapes and raisins, said that people worked in poor circumstances on the farm. She said that women had to walk far to fetch water from the river and that they are exposed to pesticide powder on the grapevines.

Department of Agriculture spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo denied that Didiza has received any invitation for a meeting with WFP.

The Department of Agriculture’s full response was: “The Ministry has not received any invitation for a meeting. Secondly the department has offices in the districts in the Western Cape that deal with amongst others land issues, farm workers, farm dwellers etc. WFP is aware of these offices. Above that there is the Department of Employment and Labour that deals with inspections on farms and conditions of employment which again WFP is aware of. I am clarifying this so that WFP and yourselves are aware that there [are] dedicated government services to deal with issues that affect workers irrespective of the sector they come from.”