It has been fascinating for me to try to understand different perspectives when we discuss the issues that beset farm workers. It is true that a lot needs to be done in order to ensure the security of these individuals, for protection during their tenure on farms or should they face eviction. I understand that people who work on farms are struggling with difficulties that modern day life demands from them. To be successful, they should be able to adapt from a society of hunter-gathering to a cash economy. In this article, I look at different reasons for why some people, especially from D’Kar, continue to work for farmers.

A family of San working together to cook a meal.
Credit: Job Morris

Today, it is in demand for any individual to sustain him/herself with a livelihood that is characterized by use of money, and acquisition of the advanced skills and qualifications that are necessary to boost the prospects of employability. Even when you don’t want to be employed, there needs to be some form of education for financial accountability, management, etc. to be able to sustain your enterprise, but that is a luxury many of the San in D’Kar cannot afford. Because they are unable to meet the demands and pressures from a system of education foreign to them, they are unable to keep up and as a result leave school without sufficient numeracy and literacy skills. This leaves them to only one option for employment so that they can become active providers of their families. Farm work has increasingly become the passport to a better livelihood, despite the disadvantages involved.

I remember vividly the time I spoke with a farm worker, after seeing him in Gantsi Township riding at the back of an open bakkie one winter, while his Afrikaner boss was driving alone in the front of the vehicle. I asked him why he didn’t join his boss in the front seat. “I can’t do that, he will beat me in front of  everyone or chase me away from his farm. I don’t want to lose my work,” he said to me. I went on to ask him why he couldn’t look for different employment. “What choice do I have?” he said. “I have no other way to work. This is the only work I have”.

It was one of these encounters that led me to write to prominent people to look into the issues of farm workers, but unfortunately I was met with unsatisfying responses. There is an intersection of different issues when it comes to farm labour. The levels of poverty, as evident among the San in D’Kar, have never been this high, while they are faced with day-to-day demands to ensure their livelihood is sustained. Farm workers, for this reason, leave their families to work on faraway farms. This in itself also births social ills among families.

Although there are difficult issues involving the farm workers and their contracts (if they even have contracts), they also find farms to be their only employment opportunity available, as they lack the formal education to take other employment opportunities, which would require qualifications. Any attempt to deploy measures to remove them from the farms without remedial options generates devastating poverty in Ghanzi. There should be safeguards, security and revised remuneration documents prepared for the farm workers so that they too can be seen as people who matter.