PRESS RELEASE: New land reform proposals won’t work for women farm workers
The new land reform policy proposed by Minister Gugile Nkwinti, Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform aims to strengthen the tenure rights of farm workers and dwellers through expansion of opportunities to become “landowners, farm managers, skilled agricultural workers and well-compensated workers” in the sector. According to the proposed policy, government will buy 50 percent of farmland and redistribute it proportionally to workers who have worked “diligently” on the farm for 10, 25 and 50 years respectively.
Following a workshop this week with farmwomen from Ashton, Ceres, Paarl, Rawsonville and Robertson, the following concerns and limitations are noted. Firstly, the policy does not fundamentally address the issue of land ownership per se even if tenure is tenuously addressed by providing shares in the land (and business). In many respects, the proposed policy is an updated version of the existing flawed share equity schemes, which largely benefited farm owners more than farm workers and dwellers, and saw farmers having the controlling decision-making power. The new scheme attempts to overcome this by including government officials in farm-level decision-making. However, given the Department of Rural Development & Land Reform’s lack of capacity and resources to monitor current evictions and share equity schemes, a massive investment will be needed to capacitate the department to effectively play this new role.
Secondly, to qualify for the benefits, a worker would have needed to work for 10 or more years. Since most women are seasonally employed, with most permanent workers being men, women seasonal workers will not receive any of the proposed benefits. They will only receive benefits indirectly if they are married to a man with long service. Women at the workshop stated that this perpetuates their vulnerability, which often makes it difficult to leave abusive relationships as they are dependent on male partners for housing on farms. Women argued for independent tenure, housing and land rights. Moreover, the proposed policy will therefore transfer the shares to men, thereby increasing men’s differential power and control over household resources.
Thirdly, there is also a strong likelihood of pre-emptive dismissals and evictions; in other words, farmers will dismiss, retrench and evict workers just before workers reach 10 years of “diligent” work. This will lead to increased casualisation and tenure insecurity. The danger of such pre-emptive evictions is great given that farmers have until April 2015 to respond to the policy proposal. We have previously seen farmers take pre-emptive or backlash action ahead of new laws being passed which aimed to improve the conditions of farm workers. Therefore, a moratorium on evictions is necessary to avoid such evictions.
To date, very few women directly benefited from farm equity schemes and other land reform initiatives. The current proposal will not redress the gender inequalities of previous schemes, mainly because it implicitly excludes tens of thousands of seasonal women workers. Currently, there are no land or tenure security policy proposals that specifically benefit women, eliminate gender discrimination and facilitate women’s independent tenure security and land ownership.
Although the current policy is well-intentioned, it will not meet the land and food security needs of women farm workers and dwellers. Government needs to meaningfully engage with women farm workers and dwellers to understand the specificities of their challenges and experiences, and the range of tenure and land needs that different groups of women require.
FOR FURTHER COMMENT, PLEASE CONTACT
Carmen Louw:021-887 2960/1/2- 083-655 6982
Colette Solomon: 021-887 2960/1/2- 072-415 0992