Eugene Terre'Blanche the worst type of employer - COSATU

Murder speaks volumes about appalling state of labour relations on farms

The murder of Eugene Terre'Blanche

The Congress of South African Trade Unions condemns the brutal murder of Eugene Terre'Blanche on 3 April 2010 and sends its condolences to his family. Murder and violent assaults can never be condoned, even against your worst enemy. His killing however highlights the following issues:

COSATU will remember Terre'Blanche as an enemy of democracy, a racist and a fascist. His Nazi AWB tried to sabotage our transition to majority rule, when they forced their way into the World Trade Centre when our democracy was being negotiated, and when they invaded Bophuthatswana to defend a hated Bantustan system our people had rejected.

He was also typical of the worst type of employer on South Africa's farms. The reported circumstances of his murder speak volumes about the appalling state of labour relations on farms.

The alleged killers were farm workers - one of them 15 years-old and therefore employed illegally - demanding unpaid wages of a paltry R300 a month. While their alleged violent actions cannot be excused, they illustrate the depth of many farm workers' frustration at their deplorable working conditions. We assume that these two young workers were so desperate that the only way they could see to get justice was to allegedly bludgeon their boss to death, an act we are condemning outright.

The police and courts must enforce the law in this case, but also revisit the numerous outstanding cases where farm workers and dwellers have been shot - often under the blatantly false excuse that they were mistaken for dogs, baboons or warthogs - had dogs set on them, been thrown into lions' enclosures or evicted from the homes on to the roadside in the middle of winter.

Most farm workers have to work for wages way below the minimum laid down by the Sectoral Determination, often from dawn to sunset without any compensation, and frequently on public holidays and even polling days. They suffer racial insults, assaults, murders and evictions.

A survey of COSATU members in 200 revealed that 25% of African workers said that their employer discriminated by race and one in seven said they had experienced racial abuse at work.

That was a survey across all sectors, but there is abundant evidence that it is worst in the agricultural sector, where labour relations on many farms are still feudal, unchanged since the days of apartheid, with the employers predominantly white and the workers overwhelmingly black. A master and slave relationship continues. It is not uncommon for Department of Labour inspectors to be barred from entering farms.  Only 3%-4% of workers are trade union members.

As numerous reports from COSATU's North West Provincial Secretary, Solly Phetoe, confirm, the farmers are very often hand-in-glove with the local police, courts and government officials, who collude to let criminal farmers off the hook when they are charged with racist crimes.  No such leniency is exercise when workers and the poor farm dwellers are charged with crimes.

In some areas the situation is aggravated by the employment and super-exploitation of immigrant workers, who are treated even worse, especially illegal immigrants who can be reported to the police if they do not toe the line. This in turn stokes resentment amongst other workers whose jobs are under threat.

No once have we seen COPE President, Mosioua Lekota, in any of the farm workers' marches to demand justice for the victims of these racist and violent killings and assaults. He has never been at any funeral of these victims or visited the grieving parents of victims of these widespread acts of violence. Yet he found time to visit Terre'Blanche's farm.

One of the ANC's top priority areas is land reform and rural development. It must now be the ANC and government's top priority to transform the lives of the farm workers and dwellers, by vigorously enforcing the labour laws on the farms, helping COSATU and its affiliate FAWU to recruit and organise farm workers and to speed up the very slow process of land redistribution.

COSATU and government are organising provincial farm workers' summits over the coming weeks, leading up to a national summit later in the year. The issues are how to enable farm workers to enjoy the fruits of democracy and laws that protect their rights, and to rescue them from the racist slavery under which most of them suffer at the present time.

Statement issued by Patrick Craven, COSATU national spokesperson, April 6 2010

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