WINDHOEK – The plight of farmworkers – who are often forgotten in national conversations – was a centre of attention during lengthy sessions at the second national land conference underway in Windhoek.
Unfair labour practices by their masters in both communal and commercial farms and other willy-nilly violations by bosses of all races, colours, and creeds came into sharper focus yesterday.
In fact, when National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) secretary-general Job Munioro asked which farmers in the crowd have their workers on medical aid, the room went stone-silent – with even politicians firmly burying themselves in their chairs.
“Who will lift their hands and tell me their workers have medical aid at the farm?” he asked.
“Nobody,” he said after a lengthy silence.
“When are you going to make your farms safer places for workers? There are no emergency and safety plans for farmworkers. They are at risk of snakebites, tick bites, crushing, ramming, infectious diseases from cattle and ringworm infectious. Sometimes they are using dangerous chemicals they don’t know because they can’t read.”
“This is besides the bad weather conditions they are pressured to work under and you are in an airconditioned car while they get heatstroke,” Muniaro stated.
Equally, the NUNW supremo raised concern that most farmworkers do not have access to education for their children, which makes their futures bleak.
He also said farmworkers do not have pension benefits once they retire.
Access to land for dismissed farmworkers is also a concern, said Munjaro.
“How do you alleviate poverty in a farmworker without land? Some even dump them at my office and leave.”
Swapo secretary general Sophia Shaningwa said the greater good to be achieved is when all of “us” have a sense of belonging in the country.”
“Let us rather deal with the interests of a few commercial land owners who are being expropriated in accordance with the law, whilst we gain a larger benefit of Namibians who are no longer living in the corridors and are being rendered destitute once chased off the farms they have lived all their lives. This is social justice,” Shanigwa noted.
Shaningwa said wherever there is a traditional or community relationship to a relevant area, such areas or farm should be the obvious targets for expropriation with compensation.
However, she added, not all everyone can be a farmer.
“Not all of us want to be farmers. Some of us just want to be dignified with a title to my house which I can pass over to my children, and they can pass over to their children. Therefore, the Swapo Party urges the government to operationalise the Flexible Land Tenure Act, 2012 (Act No. 12 of 2012) which will ensure that our people are able to acquire ownership over land in the urban areas,” she suggested.
She further proposed that foreign absentee landlords’ land, under-utilised land and farms upon which Namibian people have their grave sites should be targeted for expropriation.
Shaningwa said such a move with be no different from the rights that national telecommunications and power utilities such as Telecom and Nampower have over commercial farms today.
Further, she said government should also not shy away from expropriating land that once belonged to communities but is now commercial land for the purposes of creating or enlarging communal land.
This, she says, is so long as the nation commits itself to ensuring that in the long run, people make all usages of land productive and contributing to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country, food security, employment creation and poverty alleviation.
President Hage Geingob said the plight of farmworkers is of great concern to government.
He said legislative interventions have been developed to protect the rights of farmworkers but the emerging issue of generational farmworkers needs government’s immediate and collective consideration.
He said generational farmworkers are expelled from land on which they were born and are being dumped onto farm corridors.
“All resettlement programmes should pay special attention to the plight of generational farmworkers who themselves are inherently landless, more so when the farm they lived on all their lives change ownership,” Geingob directed.