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

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs