Ideally it will reflect the close relationships forged between these communities, to continue for generations to come. By taking responsibility in righting the wrongs of the past, this season of understandable discontent of farm labourers over dismal minimum wages, working and living conditions, can be ended.
Up to recently, and after about 350 years, the residents of this fertile table grape farming region located about 15km from Worcester near the Hex River Valley have co-existed in reasonable harmony. Deregulation of the industry in the mid 1990’s saw labour unions highlighting the inequities of the past, while the development of global export markets continued, albeit at a slower pace since 2003. Sadly, what started out as labour protests over minimum wage increases late last year has escalated into violent behaviour resulting in the senseless destruction of crops, reportedly by non local residents, casual labourers, and the unemployed.
Strikers at De Doorns.
Further damage to current harvests will threaten global export contracts, as well as much needed household income across the region. If today’s wage negotiations, to be aided by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) are successful, the annual harvest will be spared and allow business as usual. In addition to being essential to the livelihood of the overall community, it will maintain the long-term relationships between owners of farm land, labourers, authorities, business and the global export market.
Playing a vital role in the wage negotiations and end to exploitation, is the tight knit farming community of De Doorns, where early foundations should impact positively on final outcomes. Local property professional Pierre Martin, Principle at Aida Winelands based in Worcester, who grew up in De Doorns, says playing and going to school together was commonplace for children of farmers and labourers, that over generations brought an appreciation for this fertile land.
Today, greater employment opportunities reward some labourers with higher earning capacity than minimum wages, as well as improved housing facilities. And although still not commonplace, home ownership for labourers is slowly increasing, with shared ownership between farmers and labourers on Boland farms developing. Martin says in some cases highly skilled resident labourers are able to move over to, and manage farms after a two year handover period. In other cases, financing for the acquisition of neighbouring land has facilitated farming by original landowners previously from a slave era, as seen at Solms Delta in Franschhoek.
Martin says fully productive table grape farm land is priced on average at R800 000 per hectare, and farms in this area vary in size from 25 to 100 ha, with smaller farms held together in holding companies in some cases. Martin says, at the end of last year, the Aida De Doorns office concluded the sale of 50 hectare farm for R40-million that would require considerable input costs to manage a fully fledged export operation.
He says although there are three mainstream schools served by local teachers, as well as several informal schools in the area, the low turnover of residents here is reflected in slow property sales.