The historic Groot Constantia Wine Estate in Cape Town went to Court on Tuesday February 14 to try and enforce an eviction order against a worker who has been living on the farm for slightly over 20 years.
Julia Bennet was nine year's old when she moved into the worker's quarters of the far
m with her father in 1996. However in 2015, two weeks after her father died, she was served with an eviction notice. By then, Bennet had given birth to a son and had been working as a cleaner at Groot Constantia for close onto five years.
The Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU) is assisting Bennet with legal counsel to oppose the eviction order.
In terms of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA), a farmworker cannot be evicted from a farm if they have been working there for more than ten years.
“My father gave his life to this farm. He was working with pesticides all these years, and got sick because of it. And now they think nothing of me,” says Bennet.
The farm management is arguing that the tenant rights were given to Bennet's father and cannot be extended to his daughter.
“This farm is owned by the State. How can they be talking about land reform when they do this to us?” asks Bennet.
Groot Constantia is the oldest wine estate in South Africa and a designated heritage site. The farm is state-owned and managed by the Groot Constantia Trust.
The case against Bennet was postponed to the 1st of March.
Meanwhile, On Wednesday 18 January, Ladismith farmworker Karel Snyders, his wife Sylvie and their daughter Sophie, returned to their home on the farm Voorbaat following a two-year court battle against their dismissal and eviction from the farm.
In late December, the Constitutional Court struck down an order by both the Magistrate's Court and the Land Claims Court that allowed farm owner Louisa de Jager to evict the family from the home they had been living in since 1992.
CSAAWU said it was ecstatic about this confirmation of justice for farm dwellers, who occupy the most marginal and oppressed sectors of our society.
The Snyders had been evicted without any notice and in their absence, as their belongings were thrown out of the house. They were then forced to live on a neighbouring farm in a shed that was not made for human occupation.
The upshot of the Constitutional Court judgement is that terminating employment does not automatically terminate the right of residence of a farm dweller, in line with Section 19 of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act of 1997. De Jager was also instructed to pay the costs of the protracted court battle.
“This is indeed a great victory that significantly protects workers and families residing in farming communities,” CSAAWU said in a statement.
“Farm evictions cause serious hardships for evictees. The displacement not only affects the breadwinners, but entire communities and families. It is particularly disruptive to school going
children. In many instances, those evicted have been living on the farm for the better part of their lives if not for all their lives.
“Many of the houses on the farms were built with grant money for the explicit purpose of housing workers. Many farm workers face evictions because farmers want to diversify. They want to convert the workers' houses into self-catering units to make bigger profits. Houses that were acquired to house farm workers are now used to generate profit as B&B establishments.
“Farmers, often abusing workers' ignorance of the legal system, push eviction orders through the courts, knowing very well that the victims are unable defend themselves. They obtain the order through the courts under the guise of an urgent application. Workers get evicted without alternative accommodation, and without the court being informed by a social worker concerning the situation and circumstances of the occupiers.
“CSAAWU greatly welcomes the judgement in the Snyder case. This significant victory will only inspire us to double our efforts to alter the plight of farm workers. The struggle for dignity and justice amongst farm dwellers is ongoing and requires constant vigilance.”