We Want the Land Back

It’s absurd and romantic to think that farmers have virtue as a birthright. This may seem an odd thing to say given that Stuffed and Starved is often a hymn to rural struggles. But it’s important to remember that not all farmers are the same, and that very little soil is bloodless. Consider recent events in South Africa.

In October this year, an NGO called “Women in Agriculture and Rural Development” (Ward), set up by the South African government, announced in this article that that

“Three-hundred-and-fifty years ago the land was taken by white people. Now that we have a chance we must use it,” said one land activist. “We want the land back.”

A couple of weeks back, the South African Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister, Lulu Xingwana, announced during the annual “16 days of Activism to End Violence Against Women” campaign that

organised agriculture should intervene when farmers raped and assaulted farm workers.

The white farming unions have reacted angrily to the suggestion that they’re in the wholesale business of rape and assault, and have filed suit against the minister for hate speech.

Now, while we can condemn the minister’s demagoguery and generalisation, it’s far harder to forgive both her, and the farmers union, for the appalling state of land distribution in South Africa. Sixteen days is a pitifully short time, but it’s getting on to sixteen years since South Africans won democracy, and the ANC has managed in this time to redistribute a whole 3% of the land.

And, yes, women working on farms do get a systematically rougher deal. As the Women on Farms project reports to War on Want

  • The economic pressures of liberalisation have forced farm owners to cut labour or turn permanent workers into casual labour, and it is generally women who are the first to go.
  • Women farm workers face harsher treatment and conditions whilst earning only 78% of what their male counterparts earn.

Now, as I’ve observed in a different post, property rights aren’t the exclusive answer. Far more profound social change is required. But neither the farmers unions and the government seem willing to talk about them, for both are served well by the status quo.

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