By Karen Breytenbach (2006)
ORGANISATIONS championing the rights of farmworkers have threatened mass action - some even open confrontation - if Rawsonville police do not take action within 10 days against four farmers and a farmworker suspected of gang-rape and assault.
In April, a 22-year-old woman was allegedly gang-raped and her 15-year-old friend, who witnessed it, was beaten with a vineyard pole, tied to a bakkie and dragged through a river. The "bright boy" was so badly assaulted he was comatose for a while and could not continue at school, needing constant care from his mother.
Even though the victims have lodged complaints with the police, and have identified the suspects, five months later, police have not arrested anyone, nor have charges been pressed. The docket had gone missing for a while.
One of the suspects and a few other men were allegedly behind an attack on the victim's home on the farm Groenvlei on Sunday, breaking windows and driving her family off the farm. The family have sought shelter on other farms in the meantime.
The Women on Farms Project (WFP) have placed the rape survivor in a safe house in Stellenbosch, where she will stay until her alleged attackers are brought to justice.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg, said Fatima Shabodien, of WFP, who hosted a press conference in Stellenbosch yesterday on the planned mass action. The meeting followed a report on the front page of the Cape Times yesterday about the rape and attack.
As the panel spoke about planned action, the assaulted boy's mother, Eunice Elison, sat sobbing and shaking. All she managed to say was that her son was no longer able to go to school and that he was very sad for his raped friend.
Shabodien held her and praised her for her courage.
"What is unusual about this case is not that it happened at all, but that the survivors eventually found the support and courage to speak up. We know that violence in general is very pervasive on farms. And in the 10 years we've been around, we've never been able to secure a conviction against a farmer," said Shabodien.
This attack was an example of how farmers acted with "absolute impunity", she said.
Nosey Pieterse, of the Black Association of the Wine & Spirits Industry, said their current peaceful methods in getting a response on human rights abuses from government was "a waste of time".
"The situation has become worse. Enough is enough. It is not the first time Rawsonville was in the news. The lives of blacks on farms are still as cheap as they were under apartheid.
"It is clear we can't rely on the state to protect us, so we need to start protecting ourselves." he said.
Congress of South African Trade Unions regional secretary Tony Ehrenreich supported the sentiment, saying the Rawsonville authorities were "a small-scale broederbond" who still defended the rights of racist and abusive farmers.
Before reading his statement, he read the names of the five men suspected of the rape and assault, urging journalists to research the case.
"Baasskap is alive and well in the area," he said.
"While we're hoping for a peaceful and just solution, we won't for a moment shy away from open confrontation."
Mercia Andrews, of the Alliance of Land and Agrarian Reform Movements (Alarm), distanced herself from some of the utterances, but said she wished to call on government to place an immediate moratorium on evictions.
Published on the web by Cape Times on September 13, 2006.