Paying the price for reconciliation without justice

Andile Mngxitama, City Press, 2 March 2008

The plight of farm dwellers is not dissimilar to the enslavement of Israelites in biblical Egypt.

Neither the floods nor the ­locusts which the Lord visited ­upon stubborn Egypt would move the good hearts of the men and women in our government. We must now ask with the urgency of Moses: When shall they let the farm dwellers go?

Farm workers and their ­associates constitute about seven million people in our country. These are virtual slaves to whom 1994 is only a rumour.

Almost every day we read in numbing ­monotony the uninterrupted story of the sorrow and agony of farm dwellers; the beatings, the torture, the evictions, the murders and the worst, the denial of burial rights; indignity even in death.

Our government’s responses to the plight of farm dwellers has been like the doodling of a disinterested child. Numerous ineffectual initiatives have been announced and ­undertaken. All of them have avoided confronting the central issue: farm dwellers are vulnerable ­because they are landless.

They live at the mercy of the whims of ­often cruel landowners who treat them as part of their property, hence they are regularly mistaken for baboons, dogs, birds and all sorts of animals.

We have allowed the farm dwellers to live as half ­humans. Lest we forget, it is their cheaply bought labour that brings about the fresh ­produce that we take for granted as we enter the supermarket.

We must imagine the ­calloused hands of the farm ­labourer every time we reach for milk in the fridge to ­enjoy breakfast and when we kiss our well-fed children goodbye as they run happily to school.

The farm dwellers, on the other hand, are trapped in a ­vicious circle of poverty and fear. They starve while they feed the nation. Many farm workers resort to cheap ­semi-poisonous alcoholic beverages to assuage the pain of existence. Who wouldn’t?

Between 1994 and 2004, white farmers have evicted about one million farm dwellers. ­Anywhere in the world, such massive displacement of people would trigger national and international outrage. But not so with farm dwellers. They quietly disappear into squatter camps, where they ­enter a new cycle in a meaningless existence, hungry and ­broken; waiting.

The Freedom Charter lied when it stated: “The land shall be shared among those who work on it!”

The modern farm in South Africa is created by slavery and sustains itself on the same institution, democracy not withstanding.

The situation of farm dwellers regarding access to legal services has been so dismal, the Association of Rural Advancement in KwaZulu-Natal has ­decided to stop all legal ­support it has been giving to farm dwellers. It is no longer willing or able to substitute for the government.

The irony of it all is that the state provides high-quality ­legal support for the likes of Wouter “Dr Death” Basson and those who stole from the ­nation in the parliamentary Travelgate scandal.

The failure to provide legal support for farm dwellers is an arrogant contempt of court.

Although Nkuzi Development Association won a court order ­instructing the government to give legal help to farm dwellers, seven years later almost nothing has happened.

Our government would rather defy our courts than ­address the needs of farm dwellers.

More than they need legal services, farm dwellers need land and freedom. Why can’t the government simply announce that 30% of all farms now belong to farm dwellers? The heavens would surely not fall; after all, land owned by whites is stolen property.

Perhaps the continued ­enslavement of farm dwellers is the price we are paying for our relative freedom.

Is this the price we pay for reconciliation without justice? Will President Thabo Mbeki, in his last term of office, let the farm dwellers go?

· Mngxitama is a land-rights activist

From: http://www.news24.com/City_Press/Columnists/0,,186-1695_2280499,00.html

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