News / Africa

    Efforts to Organize Farm Workers Keep Political Activists Busy in South Africa

    South African political activists differ over allowing politics on farms in Free State

    For ANC official Pitso Marumo (seated) and his colleague, Maboza Ledaka, the spirit of South Africa's 2009 election lives on
    For ANC official Pitso Marumo (seated) and his colleague, Maboza Ledaka, the spirit of South Africa's 2009 election lives on
    Darren Taylor

    A ramshackle car with a mud-spattered body shutters along a dusty street leading into the small town of Petrusburg, in South Africa’s arid western Free State region.  The car – its rusted exhaust sending acrid black smoke into the air – is driven by Pitso Marumo, an official from the local branch of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC).  
    Marumo is on the prowl for supporters to attend a party meeting.  He brings his vehicle to a sudden halt in the middle of the road.  His passenger and ANC colleague, Maboza Ledaka, leans out of the window and asks a woman, “Sister, will you be at our meeting later today?”

    His clothing leaves his target in no doubt as to the politics behind the gathering.  He’s wearing a black t-shirt depicting a smiling President Jacob Zuma.  “I’ve hardly taken this shirt off since Msholozi won the election (in April 2009)!” he exclaims, using the president’s Zulu clan name.   

    In the hot and dry western Free State, towns slumber among vast golden maize and yellow sunflower plantations.  It’s as if the elections that saw the rise to power of the controversial Mr. Zuma have yet to happen.  “Stop Zuma!” proclaims a poster of the opposition Democratic Alliance.

    “Too late!” Marumo says, laughing at the banner and shouting, “It’s too late to stop Msholozi!  He will be our president for life; that is what I want!”

    Although official campaigning ended with the 2009 polls, it’s still going on in some towns in Free State. People continue to walk the streets wearing buttercup yellow t-shirts encouraging fellow South Africans to “Vote ANC.”   Ledaka says, “You still see these election things around here, because that election was the biggest thing ever to hit this forgotten part of the world.  People don’t want to forget it; they want to keep it alive….”

    In parts of South Africa's dry Free State region, people are refusing to let go of issues that dominated the country's 2009 polls
    In parts of South Africa's dry Free State region, people are refusing to let go of issues that dominated the country's 2009 polls

    Marumo says many issues that were raised during that election are still issues today – especially whether activists can campaign on private farms without permission: “As politicos, we have no choice but to continue addressing these issues until they are resolved.”



    ‘Politics doesn’t make food…. Only hot air’

    In western Free State in particular, political rivalries born during the election are still simmering as a result of some white farmers who allegedly refused – and are still refusing – to allow their laborers to be involved in political activity.  Marumo says the farmers threaten to fire any workers who disobey them and refuse to allow political meetings on their land.  The farmers say politics interferes with farm work and lowers their production, so it’s bad for South Africa’s economy.

    During the 2009 election period, Marumo says, ANC agents were able to ensure that political rallies were held on farms in the largely rural region.  “Most of our supporters here work on isolated farms; the only way to reach them is to go and speak about politics on the farms themselves,” he explains.  But the ANC official adds that some farmers remain “stubborn,” which means the issue of political activity on farmland is “far from dead.”

    He says “government intervention” is sometimes called for, in which case officials from the relevant state agency visit the farmers to “negotiate” access to their land.  The officials visit farmers like 72-year-old Barend Reynecke, who’s listening to static-filled commentary on a rugby game on a small transistor radio on his stone porch.  Despite the mind-numbing heat, Reynecke is clutching a mug of steaming coffee.

    In South Africa's Free State, signs of the April 2009 election, such as this opposition banner alongside a highway, remain
    In South Africa's Free State, signs of the April 2009 election, such as this opposition banner alongside a highway, remain

    The rancher’s grimaces and groans offer proof that he’s in a bad mood.  His team’s losing.  To make matters worse – they’re losing to their bitter rivals.  “Those big city fancy-pants from Johannesburg!”  Reynecke says.    

    With a large, sunburned hand, he swats a fly away from his face and declares, “We farmers allow politics on our farms.  But we have a rule that political meetings must not take place when there’s urgent work to be done.  We have a responsibility to produce food for this country.  Politics does not make food.  It makes hot air.”

    Reynecke’s floppy khaki sunhat, decorated with leopard-skin print material, almost falls off as he nods vigorously to the rhythm of his words.  “Some workers and the ANC have a problem with rules and discipline.  They would like to have a political rally on a farm every day.  We can’t allow this.”

    The farmers are ‘good people’

    A few miles down the asphalt from Petrusburg is another similar town, Koffiefontein.  In English, its name is ‘Coffee Fountain’ – the settlement that Afrikaners named centuries ago after a stream, its water the rich dark brown color of the brew.  Huge silver grain silos loom over the place.  A massive copper kettle – reinforcing Koffiefontein’s association with coffee – welcomes visitors at the entrance to the town.  

    Resident Storm Parker says the ANC and local farmers “can’t ever be friends” because, she says, “the ANC just arrives on the farms out of the blue and then expects everyone to just jump for them” – a charge Marumo denies, saying “all meetings are organized well ahead of time.”

    Parker’s married to a farmer.  She says men like her husband “personally” transport their workers into town to allow the laborers to attend ANC rallies and provide the workers with food to eat at such events.  The issue, Parker maintains, is not the farm laborers’ support of a particular political party, but rather that “farmers believe politics must be kept off their farms….  But if the meetings are held elsewhere, that’s fine.”

    Some activists continue to assert that Free State farmers aren't allowing political activity on their farms.....something that local farmer Barend Reynecke denies
    Some activists continue to assert that Free State farmers aren't allowing political activity on their farms.....something that local farmer Barend Reynecke denies

    On Koffiefontein’s main street, support for the farmers arrives from an unexpected source – in the form of ANC official Tshokolo Mantjies.  He’s wearing a t-shirt – again depicting a grinning Jacob Zuma – and is sheltering from the sun under a tree, the wind chimes hanging from its branches blown gently by a breeze.

    Mantjies says “as far as possible, politics must not interfere with farming….  Our country needs food, and farmers must be left to farm, not worry about political gatherings on their land.”  
    He adds, “From what I have seen in this province, many farmers even go so far as to help their workers to get involved in politics.”  Mantjies describes what he witnessed at Koffiefontein on election day in 2009.

    “I’ve seen three farmers with vans.  And they had their farm workers on the vans and they brought them to the voting stations to come and vote,” he says.  Mantjies says most white farmers in the western Free State are “good people” – even though “they don’t like” the ANC.... “But that is their right,” he stresses.

    ‘The number of the beast’

    On a farm not too far from Mantjies’s homestead, opposition Congress of the People (Cope) supporter Azael Mashampi drives his tractor into a strong headwind.  “Yes, we lost the election.  Zuma won,” he sighs, switching the vehicle’s engine off and climbing down.

    Mashampi’s more upbeat wife, Elisa, chips in, “But we weren’t destroyed.  We’re still here.  We now have people in parliament.  At least we stopped the ANC from getting 66, 6% (of the vote, which would have given it a two-thirds majority in parliament).”

    “And just as well for them!” Azael interjects.  “In the Bible, 666 is the devil’s number, the number of the beast….”

    ANC official at the Free State town of Koffiefontein, Tshokolo Mantjies...He says farmers are in fact helping their workers to become involved in politics
    ANC official at the Free State town of Koffiefontein, Tshokolo Mantjies...He says farmers are in fact helping their workers to become involved in politics

    Azael says he’s worked for farmers in the Free State for decades and – although there are some “bad types” among them – “they are the biggest providers of jobs in this province.  As such, the good they do far outweighs the bad.”

    Shielding his face from dust whipped up by a sudden gust, Azael says, “The farmers are with us. Many of them, they vote (for) Cope.  So, we are standing together with the farmers.  We’ve always said our arms are open for the farmers.”

     

     

     

    Dogs, pigs and the egghead

    Back at Petrusburg, Jan Tokkel puffs on a cigarette, his arms leaning on a steel fence.  Sweat beads on the hairs of his moustache and beard.  A homemade sign is mounted on the man’s front gate.  Its crooked lettering is scrawled on a chunk of old school blackboard.  The sign reads, ‘Hey.  Be careful of the pig that’s going to eat you.’  

    Tokkel laughs uproariously when asked about it.  “I am a small farmer – pigs,” he says, strings of white smoke curling out his flaring nostrils.  “Did you know that pigs are the best guard dogs on this earth?  Dogs are much more stupid than pigs,” he says.    

    Unlike many small town residents in western Free State, Tokkel says he doesn’t care at all about politics. “In fact, politics is banned on my farm – not that anyone would want to hold a blerrie (bloody) political rally here!” he says, raising his voice in mirth, and casting his eyes across a plot strewn with broken bricks and old car parts.  At the back of the yard, some men slouch against a wall, gulping beer from large brown bottles.

    A woman pokes her head around a corner, squinting into the sunlight.  Addressing the men, she asks, ““What’s going on here?”  A man tells her, his voice slurring, “Someone from the American newspaper is here to talk about Zuma.”

    Free State pig farmer Jan Tokkei says he doesn't care about politics, only his animals
    Free State pig farmer Jan Tokkei says he doesn't care about politics, only his animals

    Oh! The eierkop (egghead),” she says, using another term of affection for the president – this time referring to Zuma’s large, shiny pate.  The drinking men cackle into their beer bottles.

    “By the way,” she says, clutching a bundle of dirty washing and simultaneously arranging multicolored curlers in her bush of disheveled hair, “How is he doing? Is he going to do something good for the Free State?” she asks, dipping into the bucket holding a pile of underclothes and arranging one of the garments on a line.

    “I don’t know,” answers another man, beer froth lining the sides of his mouth.  “Ask the man from the newspaper,” he tells the woman, rolling his calcified eyes.

    “Who cares, says Tokkels.  “Life is still the same here, nothing’s changed.  Zuma must give me money so I can feed my pigs properly.  If he does that, then maybe I will also join all you nikswerde (good-for-nothings) who do nothing all day except talk kak (nonsense) about politics.”   

    Then Tokkels ambles off, his slippers shuffling in the dust.  “My pigs are hungry,” he repeats.

    The washer woman stares after him.  “Everything here is hungry,” she says to Tokkel’s back.  

    “But not thirsty!” says the man with the dead eyes, smiling as he sucks at the neck of yet another bottle.      

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora