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Life on the farms

Mr Jongilanga and his family live and work on a farm in the Eastern Transvaal. The story of their lives is terrible. But their story is not different from the story of thousands of farm workers in South Africa.

MrJongilanga told us this : “The story of our life is that we were born on the farms. We work here on the farm. And we will die on the farms. Our lives are very heavy.

“We work for six months for a place to stay. In those six months we get ten rand a month and thirty bags of mealies. For the second six months we get twenty rand a month and nothing else.”


“That money buys you tobacco to smoke — and maybe one candle. Long before the end of the month, your money is finished and you have to borrow money. At the end of the month, you pay what you owe. The next month you are very bankrupt and you have nothing in your pocket.

“We cannot leave this place because we are caught by debts. When your child gets sick, you borrow money from the farmer to take your child to the doctor. You borrow money until you owe too much. Then you must pay the farmer before you can leave, but you can never pay all the money that you owe.

Here we work for something that is not there. We have no leave, not even at the end of the year. There is no bonus. And you cannot leave and work outside, at another place, not even when you have finished your six months for a place to stay.”


“We work from half past seven to five o’clock. On Saturdays we knock off at one o’clock. Sometimes we work on Sundays too. But we get no extra pay for that.

“My wife does the washing at the farmer’s house on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. The farmer pays her one rand for that. But she cannot refuse because we live on the farm.”


“Even the children work on the farm. By 2 o’clock the children must be in the fields. If they work the whole day, they get fifty cents. And if they work after school, they only get twenty five cents.

“Many of the children run away from the farms because there is no future for them. In the towns they get more money. People who have no children in town really suffer. If we had no children in Johannesburg, we would be dead.”


“No union has tried to help us. The farmers do not want unions here. If you try to have a meeting here on the farm, some people will say, “What are you doing? You are making big trouble.” And then they go straight to the farmer and tell him what you are saying.

“Those people are impimpis. But how can we try to make things better on the farm if there is no unity?”


Learn and Teach spoke to a lawyer. We wanted to know what rights farm workers have. The lawyer said there are very few laws to protect farm workers.

The law does not say how much farm workers must get paid. The law says nothing about holidays, leave or sick leave. It says nothing about sick pay and hours of work. The law does not even give farm workers public holidays.

Farm workers do not have many rights. But they do have some rights:

  • They have rights under common law. Common law is the law from long ago. It comes from the old teachers and books — and it comes from old customs.

  • Farm workers also have rights when they make a contract or agreement with the farmer.

  • Farmworkers can get money from the Workmen’s Compensation Fund when they get hurt at work.

  • Farmworkers can also get a pension from the government when they are too old to work.


The farmer can pay you whatever he likes. But he cannot take money off your wages if you break something or lose something, like a cow. If the farmer wants to take money off your wages, he must prove in court how much you owe him.

A farmer cannot force you to work for him if you owe him money. And he cannot force you to buy from his shop and then take this money from your wages.


The law says the farmer can fire you when he wants to. But he must warn you first. If he pays you every week, he must tell you a week before you must leave.

If he pays you every month, he must give you a month’s notice. If the farmer wants you to leave straight away, he must give you notice pay. If the farmer pays you every week, he must give you a week’s wages. If he pays you every month, he must give you a month’s wages.

If you are living on the farm and the farmer says you must leave, he must give you notice. He must give you at least one month’s notice.

The farmer must tell the Commissioner in your area if he wants you to leave his farm. And you must tell the Commissioner your story. If you have nowhere to go, you can ask the Commissioner to help you to find a place to live and to work.


If the farmer agreed to give you a house, he must give you a good house. It must not make you and your family sick. There must be a toilet near the house. And there must be water close by.

Your house must not be near where the farmer keeps his animals. And it must not be near rubbish or drains. These things can make you sick.


No farmer can beat his workers. If the farmer hits you, you can take him to court. If the farmer hurts you, you can sue him for money because of your in-juries. But you will need a lawyer to do these things.

A farmer cannot swear at you or your family. If he does this, he is breaking the law.



In ‘common law’ you can also make an agreement or contract with the farmer. An agreement will protect you more. The farmer must do what he agrees to do. You must also do what you have agreed with the farmer.

Here we tell you how a contract should be made. We know that this does not happen on many farms. But if you can, try to make an agreement or contract with the farmer that you work for.

It is best if you write down the contract you make with the farmer. You and the farmer must both sign the written contract. If you cannot write, ask someone to help you. Try to get two other people to sign the contract as witnesses.

And then you must keep the contract. But even if you do not have a written contract and you and the farmer only agree by talking, it is still a contract.


When you start to work for a farmer, you and the farmer should make an agreement or contract. The farmer must tell you what he will give you for the work that you do on the farm.

The farmer must tell you how much money he will pay you. He must tell you if there is a house for you. He must tell you if he will give you food and crops as part of your payment. He must tell you what kind of work you must do. He must tell you how many hours you must work.

The farmer should make a separate agreement with every son you have who is older than fifteen years and who works on the farm.

The farmer cannot force you to move to another farm with him unless you agree to move. And the farmer cannot make you work for another farmer. You should make a new contract with each farmer.

If the farmer does not give you what he has promised, the farmer is breaking the contract. If the farmer breaks the contract, he must pay you for the work you have done. If the farmer refuses to pay you, you must find a lawyer to help you get your money.


If you sign a contract in the homelands to work on the farms, be sure that you know and understand what your contract says. Ask the clerk at the Labour Office to read the contract to you before you sign it.



When you turn sixty years old if you are a woman, or sixty five if you are a man, you can get a pension. You must ask for your pension at the Commissioner’s office in the closest town.


The Workmen’s Compensation Fund is money to help workers who have accidents at work. Farm workers can get money from this Fund. If you have an accident at work, and you hurt yourself, the farmer must write to the Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner in Pretoria.

The law says the farmer must do this. You must also see a doctor who must send his report on you to the Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner.

Workmen’s Compensation will pay you money if:

  • you cannot work for more than three days because of your accident. — you lose part of your body in an accident, like your finger or your arm.

  • a worker is killed in an accident, then their family will get money.

  • The Commissioner will also give money to pay for the funeral of a worker who was killed in an accident.

  • you get a sickness from the work that you do on the farm. But this is very difficult to prove.

The farmer must take you to hospital and he must pay for your treatment — even if you get treatment for two years after the accident. He will get this money back from the Workmen’s Compensation Fund. He cannot take this money off your wages.

If you have had an accident, and you have no money because of the accident, you can ask the Commissioner to give you money until you get your Workmen’s Compensation money.

If you get money from the Workmen’s Compenastion, then YOU must get that money, not the farmer.


On July 1 this year, the government said that people did not have to carry passes anymore. Everyone — except people from Venda, Ciskei, Transkei and Bophuthatswana — must get a South African Identity Book.

People will no longer have to get stamps in these books to show where they work. This means that farm workers do not have to work on farms only. Now farm workers can look for work in town. But the big problem is finding a place to live.


We know that it is very difficult for farm workers to fight for their rights. But you are stronger if you know what your rights are. Speak to the other farm workers. And speak to the farmer. Maybe you can make things better for yourselves and your families.

But the government must make laws that protect farm workers. They must have laws to protect them, just like factory workers. Until the government does this, there will always be farmers who treat their workers badly.


The Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) has started a Farm Workers Project. They want to help farm workers. And they want farm workers to join their union. You can talk to any branch of the Food and Allied Workers Union. But if you do not know where to find them, you can write to their head office. Their address is: Food and Allied Workers Union 355 Albert Rd WOODSTOCK 7925 Tel: (021)47-1034

Here are the addresses of other people who work with farm workers. If you need help, write to them, or go to their offices.


The Black Sash Khotso House 42 de Villiers St JOHANNESBURG 2001

The Black Sash St Columba Church 29 Schoeman St PRETORIA 0002

Orange Vaal General Workers Union 26 Leslie St VEREENIGING 1933 (They also work with farm workers in the Free State)

National Union of Forestry Workers 6 Cooper Building 40 Bester St NELSPRUIT 1200



The Black Sash Central Court 2 Gale St DURBAN 4001

CAPE PROVINCE The Black Sash 7 Long St Mowbray CAPETOWN 7705

The Black Sash Trinity Church Oxford St EAST LONDON 5201

Eastern Cape Farm Workers Union Court Chambers 623 Main St PORT ELIZABETH 6001


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