The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
By Ed Herbst*
“I am a farmer. It is not for sissies, trust me. They get murdered. There is no security. They are prone to be violently attacked and murdered, land tenure is under threat. We have to compete against subsidised systems. We need the farming sector to be safe, happy and profitable. The farmers are willing to share.” Johann Rupert 2/3/2015
The spectre of food riots is a probability more than a possibility.
In its constant quest to demonise “the other” the ANC has mythologised the white farmer, and more specifically the white Afrikaans farmer as the epitome of evil.
Those who are so constantly vilified might justifiably ask which farmer within their accuser’s ranks they should select as role models. The Minister of Agriculture, leading from the front, would be an obvious choice. His name is Senzeni Zokwana and its common cause that he housed his 21-year old cattle herder, Vuyolwethu Ndabambi, in a tin shack and the poor lad was expected to work seven days a week for R21 a day. Or should it be the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chairperson Thandi Modise who is alleged to have paid her farm employees somewhat more than Zokwana (R25 a day) but whose approach to farming is considered to be somewhat unconventional?
There is an election coming up and it is going to be interesting to see how this plays out, most specifically in the Western Cape – in wheat farming towns like Malmesbury, Wellington, Moreesburg and Darling and in wine farming areas like the Breede and Hex River valleys.
We are the ninth largest producer of wine in the world – 300 million vines, 1100 hectares under cultivation, providing work for 60 000 people with more than 80% of our wine being produced by co-operatives.
Skilled labour is scarce and for these wheat and wine farmers to routinely assault their employees – as the ANC constantly claims while never laying charges or providing proof – would make as much sense as the owner of a car dealership routinely beating up his/her mechanics.
If you believe the allegations by Tina Joemat-Petterson, Tony Ehrenreich, Marius Fransman and Nosey Pieterse that the employees on Western Cape farms are the wretched of the earth and victims of daily human rights abuses, then you have to believe that people like Beyers Truter, Jan Boland Coetzee, Paul Cluver, Danie de Wet, Johann Rupert, Christo Wiese and others are at worst, participants in these abuses or, at best, part of a huge conspiracy of silence that promotes and perpetuates them. (Is it not strange that the thousands of tourist local and international, who visit such farms have never witnessed these abuses which are, if you believe the ANC, ubiquitous?) By any standards such men are exemplary in providing shareholding schemes for employees as well as crèches, schools, bursaries and sports facilities.
As a fly fisher I have visited the Breede River valley since 1978 and I lived on a Rawsonville wine farm for a year in 2006 after leaving the SABC without a job to go to because of unaddressed employee abuse and pervasive news and general corruption which has never stopped.
What I know is that the wine farmers in this area sell most of their produce to big British supermarket chains like Sainsburys and Tesco. They are contractually bound to these companies to provide humane working conditions for their employees and are closely monitored in this regard. They also pay shedloads of money each year to have their employee’s living conditions monitored by Wieta. Furthermore, they are closely monitored in this regard by the local trades union and affiliated NGOs.
In 2012 a farmer in the area and then provincial MEC for agriculture, Gerritt van Rensburg, set out in a Politicsweb article some of the things that farmers in this region do for their workers but which you will never hear mentioned by the ANC because it would not assist their end game – gaining political control of the province.
- The Western Cape pays the highest wages in South Africa. Western Cape farm workers are earning on average 50% more than the prescribed minimum wage according to the latest data available.
- Western Cape farms have to adhere to internationally recognised ethical standards in order to qualify for exports. The wine industry’s recently launched WIETA is another example of an industry which monitors and evaluates ethical practices on Western Cape farms.
- The Western Cape Department of Agriculture is still the only department in South Africa with a dedicated Farm Worker Development Programme, which channels millions each year towards the improvement and empowerment of farm workers’ lives.
- The Western Cape is the only province giving recognition to the important role of farm workers in South Africa. The Western Cape Farm Worker of the Year Competition, initiated in 2002, will see more than 1000 entrants from 16 districts compete in the 2012 competition. The winner will receive more than R100 000. My department’s budget for the 2012 competition is R1.4 million.
- The winners of the Farm Worker Competition become members of the Prestige Farm Worker Forum. This body meets regularly with me to discuss issues affecting farm workers.
- The Western Cape Department of Agriculture funds overseas trips for farm workers to gain invaluable insight in their fields of expertise, which is ploughed back into our local sector.
- The Western Cape Department of Agriculture supports new farmers to gain market access. If the quality and quantity of their produce justifies it, this assistance also includes overseas marketing tours.
Western Cape ANC politician Tony Ehrenreich would need a bushel the size of a mopane tree to hide his antipathy towards the white minority in general and white farmers in particular but he is very happy to openly acknowledge this ethnic hatred which is the antithesis of the Nelson Mandela dream of nation building through reconciliation.
As I personally experienced he did not distance himself from a call for whites to be burnt to death and he has made it clear that should the ANC be returned to political power in the province, his priority will be to impoverish white civil servants.
In September 20006 a claim, totally devoid of truth, was made suggesting that a farm employee, Anneline Davids (22) was gang raped by four farmers who then beat a friend of hers, Anthony Ntonzeni (15) so savagely with an iron bar that he was left brain-damaged.
The farmers implicated in the story denied being on the farm on the evening of the alleged gang rape and assault on Ntonzeni and had rock-solid alibis to support their contention.
Ntonzeni, it turned out, had suffered head injuries months before the alleged gang rape and alleged assault on him. He was injured when he had been hunting hares at night from a dune buggy (pypkar) and the driver lost control. At the time I phoned the Worcester Hospital and was told that his docket had mysteriously disappeared…
“Blood on the farmers”
Despite this, an incredibly vicious, hatemongering campaign, led by Ehrenreich ensued. He was quoted in the local press as saying of farmers in the area: “They’re going to shit themselves if they don’t stop! “There’s already blood on the farmworkers and, unless it stops, there’s going to be blood on the farmers. We’re going to grab the land and give it to its rightful owners!”
In October 2006 the Police’s Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) concluded that the entire rape and assault story was a fabrication and on 18 December that year, four months after the hate campaign led by Ehrenreich, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions announced that it would not proceed with the prosecution of the accused famers because there was not a shred of evidence to justify doing so.
I wrote about this routine ANC calumny against farmers, in the article “Raw Deal in Rawsonville?” in January 2007 in noseweek Issue #87.
The denouement came in that month when Davids asked for forgiveness for her lies. (“Ek het go-jok – plaasvrou” Die Burger 11/1/2007).
She said she had been threatened with violence by a shebeen-owning couple (who were also selling drugs to farm workers) that unless she made the false allegations against the farmers she would be physically harmed. She said she was literally frog-marched from police station to police station until one was found which accepted her false claims made under duress.
Unsurprisingly, Ehrenreich has never apologised.
Widespread drug peddling
A few months later I arranged an interview with the falsely-accused farmers for a Cape Argus reporter. They said they had been targeted because they were investigating widespread drug peddling in the area by shebeen owners. The shebeen owners would, at the end of the month, escort the addicted farm workers who had bought drugs and liquor on credit, to collect their social grants which were then taken from them.
They said that drug addiction and alcoholism were causing massive absenteeism among their employees and they were forced to try and collect their own evidence of nightly drug drops at these shebeens. This was because their pleas for intervention by the police, government departments, trade unions like Cosatu and their affiliated NGOs were met with indifference. It was easier they said, for these institutions and organisations to vilify farmers with false accusations than to confront armed drug dealers, many of whom had spent time in the nearby Brandvlei Prison.
Close on 1700 white crosses dot a grassy hillside of a farm near Pietersburg. Locals call it “Treurgrond” – Place of Sorrow.
They commemorate the farmers and their families who have been murdered since the ANC took control of the country. They have been murdered sometimes with depraved savagery, in what the agricultural community regards as an undeclared but de facto war of attrition against them and I set out the background in my article, Place of sorrow: Farm murders and the public broadcaster published on the Media Online website in 2014.
Death by his own hand
Another cross has been added to that tally to commemorate the death, by his own hand, on 3 September 2013 of Johnny Burgers, owner of the farm Rietvlei near Robertson.
The details have been set out in the article by Rebecca Davis, “The Tangled tale of Flippie Engelbrecht” and in the Kate Barry-produced Carte Blanche programme, “Flippie”, which was broadcast a month later.
They show that the ANC used exactly the same modus operandi in 2013 as it did in the 2006 Rawsonville case. Flippie Engelbrecht, the epileptic son of alcoholic parents suffered severe burn injuries when he had a fit and fell onto a brazier on 19 August, 2012. This was used in another ANC-driven campaign of ethnic hatred and lies which led ultimately to the suicide of the falsely-accused, Johnny Burgers. His co-accused, farm manager Wilhelm Treurnicht, was subsequently acquitted at the closure of the state case in the Worcester Regional Court because the case against him, like the alleged assaults in Rawsonville eight years earlier, was manifestly without foundation.
Launching the ANC’s “Red October” campaign in 2013 Marius Fransman said of the province’s farmers and the Democratic Alliance: “They don’t care how many more Flippies suffer the indignity of being maimed and paralysed. They don’t care how many more workers get beaten. All they care about is the profits that will fund their campaigns of lies, deceit and hypocrisy.”
Lies, deceit and hypocrisy
Campaigns of lies, deceit and hypocrisy exactly describe the modus operandi of the ANC in Rawsonville 2006 and Robertson 2013 and the campaign reached its destructive nadir in 2012.
In that year the farmers in the Breede and Hex River valleys were paying more than the minimum R65 daily wage prescribed by government. The epicentre of the destructive riots in 2012 which caused more than R150 million in damage to vineyards, orchards, property and infrastructure and the death of a farm worker was the informal settlements on the outskirts of De Doorns, home not to employed farm workers but to seasonal workers. They earn a living only during harvesting and for the rest of the year, like 12 million other people who live in similar conditions throughout the country, they are dependent on social grants.
A harsh police response during the initial phase of the riots played a substantial role in their anger and the ANC was quick to exploit the anger. Former agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson spent R10 million funding strike organisers like the multi-millionaire, BMW-driving cleric Nosey Pieterse and providing food parcels to the rioters. She encouraged them by promising indemnity from prosecution regardless of how much damage they did, no matter how many farm employees they intimidated and prevented from working.
She said the government would ensure that no farm worker would face criminal or disciplinary charges for their participation in the strike which included barricading the N1, stoning vehicles and assaulting an 81-year old farmer, Tinie Crous, so badly that his hearing aid had to be cut out of his skull.
“We will speak to the National Prosecuting Authority and the police minister to ensure that all cases of intimidation and public violence are withdrawn,” she stridently declared.
Joemat-Pettersson has been true to her word. The only person who was charged and prosecuted for this anti-white farmer campaign was Constable Johan Geldenhuys who was accused of murder and attempted murder but was acquitted two years ago with the state case being described as exceptionally weak.
William Dicey, a farmer in the strike-affected area said his employees were intimidated and the damage to property carefully orchestrated:
Ehrenreich’s role in the strike has been nothing short of despicable. To announce that ‘Marikana is coming to the farms in the Western Cape’ is not only extremely irresponsible, it is also callously opportunistic. When Ehrenreich invoked Marikana for a second time – on a poster that featured his photograph above the gleeful exclamation ‘FEEL IT!!! Western Cape Marikana is here!!!’ – the Democratic Alliance laid a charge of incitement to violence. Ehrenreich is also on record as saying: ‘The strike … could see a reversal to the low-level civil war we all witnessed on farms a few weeks ago.’
The only conclusion one can draw from these inflammatory utterances is that Ehrenreich wanted to see the Western Cape burn. Why? To please his political bosses, most likely.
Decline in farm numbers
As I mentioned in my ‘Place of Sorrow’ article:
The number of commercial farmers has declined from about 66 000 in 1990 to about 37 000 now – that’s 37 000 farmers to provide food for more than 50 million people. This has had a concomitant effect on the number of farm workers employed and the number of farms being cultivated. According to the SA Institute of Race Relations, “Between 1993 and 2007, the number of people employed on commercial farms dropped from 1.1 million to 796 806.”
“The same trend was echoed in the number of farms, which declined from 57 987 in 1993 to 39 982 in 2007, a decrease of 31%.”
Government has spent billions of rand on land-claim farms which no longer produce crops or employ workers and have been asset-stripped. Our farmers are among the least-subsidised in the world and we are facing a worrying future in terms of food security. Furthermore, two years ago Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti published policy proposals requiring commercial farmers to hand over half their property to their employees.
This situation will be further aggravated by the ANC’s latest plan to prevent farmers from benefiting through economies of scale.
More and more farmers, in response, are leaving the country.
On its website, Agri Western Cape says:
The Western Cape is one of the world’s leading agricultural regions.
From apples to zucchinis and everything in-between, including beans, chillies, citrus, pears, peaches, wine and wheat, our farmers grow quality produce for local tables, contribute massively to local job creation and are responsible for up to 14% of South Africa’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
More than 300 000 people are employed in the agricultural sector in the Western Cape of which 121 000 work on farms and there are many dependents.
With more than 3000 farming units, the Western Cape has the second most farms and employees in relation to other provinces, but also the highest level of farmers’ debt in the country. Most farms are hocked to the hilt.
Food prices have risen exponentially in the past two years and there are ominous portents of food strikes. If ever Marius Fransman and Tony Ehrenreich succeed in their campaigns against white farmers in the Western Cape, the impact on the local economy and on unemployment in the region will be almost incomprehensibly damaging and will be felt for decades.
Within a week we will know whether the underlying message of ethnic hatred espoused by politicians like Marius Fransman, Tony Ehrenreich and Tina Joemat-Pettersson has gained any traction on Western Cape farms.
In closing: Unsurprisingly, the Cape Times has, in typical fashion, tried to do its bit for the ANC in this regard. In a partially-plagiarised article which was utterly devoid of truth the allegation was made that the tot-system was pervasive on Western Cape farms and responsible for many children suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome. I challenged the editor of the newspaper, Aneez Salie, to call a press conference and provide proof of this. For obvious reasons he did not do so but what is disturbing in terms of newspaper ethics is that the buck did not stop with him. A reporter took the rap and no longer works for the newspaper.
- Ed Herbst is a pensioner and former reporter who writes in his own capacity.
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