Inside Cape’s farm of shame

2012-11-18 10:00
Jacques Pauw
Workers say they have to live in rat-infested hovels

These are the living conditions for 46 women workers on a world-famous Cape wine and olive estate.

The women live packed like sardines in two metal containers and two dilapidated bungalows on the  Kloovenburg Wine and Olive Estate outside Riebeek Kasteel, north of Cape Town.

They say they have no functioning ablution facilities and have to use nearby bushes as their toilet, they live in bunk beds along with their children and cook metres away from where they sleep.

And they are paid a pittance.

They described their conditions to City Press this week as a “living hell”.

The area – and the farm – was hit this week by the wave of strike action that has rolled across the Boland.

The daily wage and living conditions of farm workers are at the heart of the protest action, which has turned violent in some areas.

Multi-award-winning wine and olive farmer Pieter du Toit imports the women he works with every weekend from townships across Cape Town. They toil in the vineyards and olive orchards on his historic farm.

On Thursday, Du Toit obtained an urgent interim order preventing the women from engaging in an illegal strike.

They were ordered to board a truck and were taken to Wellington’s station, where they took the train back to Cape Town. Confused workers feared they had been fired.

“We are finished,” said one. “Du Toit threw us off. We are going home with nothing.”

The workers photographed their living conditions for City Press hours before they were trucked away.

It is unclear what the fate of the women is and whether they will return to Kloovenburg this week.

Confronted on Friday with the claims from his workers, Du Toit threatened court action to stop publication of this material.

He was offered a number of opportunities to respond and to take our reporter to the property to disprove his workers’ claims, but he didn’t.

One of the workers, Nokuthula Menzi, turned only 17 on June 10 this year. The oldest of the 46 workers is 53-year-old Thamela Ntombifikle.

On Tuesday, these women and other Kloovenburg workers joined the farm workers’ strike in the region.

The workers said Du Toit paid them R70 a day for working in his vineyards. They have no benefits.

Du Toit, however, said in court papers that he paid the women R75 a day, which is above the minimum daily wage of R69.

Du Toit referred to them in court papers as “seasonal workers” although the women claim to work week in and week out on the farm.

Through his lawyer, Du Toit described their allegations as “defamatory”, “inflammatory” and untrue.

The 300-year-old Kloovenburg estate is one of the most prized wine and olive estates in Western Cape. The 300-hectare farm produces award-winning wines that are sold at Harrods in London and its olive oil has been named among the best in the world.

Pieter du Toit is the son of legendary Springbok prop forward Piet “Spiere” du Toit while his son, Pieter-Steph, made his debut as lock for the Sharks this year.

The farm employs about 130 workers, of whom more than a hundred went on strike this week.

Other workers supported the claims of the women imported from Cape Town.

Most allege that they are also paid R70 a day (some senior workers get more) although they sometimes work 12-hour shifts. They said they also live in shoddy housing on the estate.

Papers in Du Toit’s Labour Court action brought this week confirm the women are imported from Cape Town townships, are collected on Sunday nights and returned on Friday afternoons.

The papers also confirm that they do manual labour in the vineyards.

On Tuesday, two of the women handed Du Toit a note demanding a daily wage of at least R150.

He told them their strike was illegal after which they began “marching” on the farm and intimidated other workers, he said in court papers.

Du Toit told the court he feared a “violent response” and was concerned about the safety of his family and farm.

The seasonal workers – most asked not be named in fear of retaliation– said the bungalows and containers were infested with rats, spiders and mosquitoes.

The police won’t tell
The police refuse to release proof that President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead – upgraded with R248 million in taxpayers’ money – is a national key point.

The state has justified spending hundreds of millions on the rural KwaZulu-Natal property by claiming it has been declared a national key point.

Last month Media24 Investigations filed an access to information request asking for, among other things, a copy of the document which declared Nkandla a national key point, apparently done in April 2010.

This week the police replied, refusing our request for a copy of Nkandla’s national key point designation.

In terms of the National Key Points Act the authority to designate a national key point falls to the police minister.

The police argued: “To provide access to the requested records will impact negatively on and jeopardise the operational strategy and tactics used to ensure security at the relevant property or safety of an individual”.

Media24 Investigations will appeal the refusal.

– Andrew Trench and Athandiwe Saba