July 30, 2009 Edition 1
Francis Hweshe – Cape Argus
URGENT dialogue is needed between the government, business, Cosatu and trade union Sikhula Sonke to address the plight of farmworkers, the SA Human Rights Commissioner has said.
Commissioner Pregs Govender made the appeal during her address to dozens of protesting farmworkers gathered at St George’s Cathedral for a church service yesterday.
The workers were later disappointed when President Jacob Zuma, who they said had promised to address them at Parliament, did not arrive.
Instead Charles Ford, regional manager for the Presidency, accepted their memorandum of demands.
“Without you there wouldn’t be food and wine,” Govender told them, adding that it was ironic that their protest was on the eve of the Stellenbosch wine festival to “celebrate South African wine applauded as the best in the world”.
She urged that the law not be used to evict the workers, but rather to uphold their constitutional rights.
In their memorandum, the workers called on the “President and the government” to develop policies that compelled farmers to provide decent housing.
The government should “expropriate for the people farms such as Kaapfleus where farmworkers are grossly mistreated”.
In addition, land redistribution to farmworkers, especially women, should be prioritised, and “a living wage for farmworkers” should be enforced.
The workers have also asked to meet with the portfolio committee on agriculture, land affairs and local development within the next 30 days.
On Monday, the workers slept at a flower farm in Stellenbosch to highlight the plight of workers there. They spent Tuesday night outside Parliament. Tonight they plan to highlight their grievances at the Stellenbosch wine festival.