Documenting Evictions To Strengthen Protections for Farm-dwellers

Resource type: Grantee Story

Some 2.1 million people work on farms in South Africa, representing about 15% of the workforce. Together with their 8 million dependants, these individuals are a particularly exploited and marginal group. Workers on farms earn the lowest wages in the economy; work the longest hours in all sorts of conditions; are exposed to pesticides; and live in housing that is sub-standard, lacking even basic amenities such as running water and electricity.

In many parts of the country, sharecropping or labour-tenancy still prevails – meaning that in return for working on the land, farmworkers are given a plot for their own subsistence. When farmworkers lose their jobs, they are subject to eviction and therefore the loss of their livelihoods. The advent of democracy in 1994 has done little to improve the conditions of farmworkers.

Purpose and Impact of the Grant

The Nkuzi Development Association (Nkuzi) is a rural nonprofit organisation that offers legal advice and support to farm-dwellers in the poor northern parts of the country. During the past decade, Nkuzi had noted a disturbing trend of increased evictions of farmworkers, as well as a growth in rural unemployment.

In 2004, Atlantic awarded a grant to Nkuzi and the demographic-research agency called Social Surveys, Africa, that enabled the organisations to document the extent and impact of the evictions by carrying out the first comprehensive baseline study of the problem.

The results of the survey were released in September 2005. The survey found that, since 1994, nearly 1 million people had been pushed off farms – 49 per cent of them children. The survey also documented that most of the evictee families lost their livelihoods in the process. According to the findings, the evictions have contributed to the growth of a significant destitute rural under-class.

The survey results made it clear that legislation designed to protect the tenure of long-term farm-dwellers has failed, largely due to capacity problems in South Africa’s Department of Land Affairs. The findings received significant media attention and have shocked government and civil society. A national conference was convened in October 2005 to discuss the implications of the findings and explore appropriate responses.

The survey will now form the basis for a concerted lobbying and advocacy campaign by civil society to find solutions to the economic and social problems of evictees.

For more information on the survey, please visit the grantee Web sites at www.nkuzi.org.za and www.socialsurveys.co.za.