Friday, 16 November 2012

If you've eaten today, thank a farmer

If you've eaten today, thank a farmer
15 November 2012

If your belly is full and you’ve eaten today, thank a farmer.  It might sound trite, but it’s ever so true.  I saw this little “post-it” on Facebook today and it really made me think.  Why?  Because quite simply it is so true.  I would however like to take it one step further and add this – if you haven’t eaten yet, but know that you will, thank a farmer too.  But not only that – if you’ve had something to drink today, other than water – best you thank a farmer for that as well.

Because the bottom line is just that.  Every single thing that we eat and drink, in some or other way, relates back to a farmer.  Fair enough, not only him.  Because a farmer without his workers is nothing at all.  It is a joint team effort.  Heck, we even have lollipops thanks to farmers, because without corn syrup, which is made out of…..right corn, we wouldn’t have those either.  Beer needs hops, which comes from farmers.  Wine needs grapes which come from farmers too.  Every single thing.

At present our beautiful country is struggling a bit.  There is anger and hatred, which in turn breeds contempt.  There is lack of understanding and two sides that just won’t budge.  This never makes for a good combo.

Exploitation of workers is despicable at best.  Barbaric at worse.  People living below the poverty line is just not good enough.  But is it all as simple as that?  There are always two sides to a story.  True, I am not a farm labourer or a farmer, hence my knowledge is quite limited.  But is it not true that many workers live on the farms on which they work?  Thereby getting free accommodation?  Do some of them not get weekly food parcels, seeing to at least some of their grocery needs?  Many are cared for with medical schemes, included in their wages.  Then there’s the UIF too.  Numerous farms have schools on their grounds, seeing to the educational needs of the children on the farm.  These schools are normally funded by the farmers themselves – they are the ones employing and paying the wages of the teachers too.  There are also farms with small churches and chapels, even little graveyards too.  These benefits, though not mentioned in daily, weekly and monthly wages, all amount to a monetary cost to the farmer none the less.  Because they certainly cost the farmer money to provide these services.  Workers may not get this physical cash in the hand, yet it makes their lives easier and is part of their employment package.  Farms that export their goods overseas, are held to a very high standard.  They are not approved for export, if they do not comply with minimum wage standards.  So how does this all work?  How come so many farms slip through the cracks?  I spoke to a guy just today.  He has a friend who is a farmer and he says that it is true.  His daily cash wages to his workers do not amount to much more than R70 per day.  Yet, he has calculated that the total cost of each labourer including the above mentioned benefits amounts to R250 per day.  He has a school on his farm and employs three teachers.  His workers have homes with electricity and access to running water.  They have medical care, UIF and belong to unions too.

Sadly there is still rife abuse of labourers.  Some are abused and used.  By uncaring and callous individuals.  People who only care for themselves and their own bottom line.  But I would like to think that they are the exception to the norm.  Our government surely has checks and balances or is this not so?  I would hope that they do indeed check and do visits to farms, scrutinizing their books and keeping an eye that all is fair and just.  However, if labourers are being exploited, and their plight is not heard, what other recourse have they got, than mass demonstration?

Unions are all powerful and this can also be problematic.  Presently they are waging an all-out war.  Protests are orchestrated and planned.  The leaders have clearly sat down and worked out a plan.  Systematically unrest is sweeping through the Western Cape.  Going from town to town and region to region.  It started off in De Doorns and from there it spread.  On Wednesday it was Tulbach, Wolseley and Ceres that suffered.  Today it was Wellington and surrounds.  I wonder which town will be targeted tomorrow?

Don’t get me wrong.  I am very sympathetic to the workers.  Because if they’re not being treated fairly, the abuse amounts to bullying.  And bullying of a vicious kind.  How can one be so callous and mistreat those who work so hard for you?  For without them you would be nothing too.  Then it is no wonder that tempers flare, anger rises and hatred breeds.

However, the sad by products of these protest movements are many.  Workers lose their jobs.  Productivity is badly affected.  Inevitably food prices will rise.  And the very people who are battling the most financially, will be battling even more.  Looting I abhor.  Why damage and destroy?  Why light fires and break things?  Yet, physical damage to earthly things is one thing.  The cost in human life is entirely different.  There have been injuries and death.  How terrible and awful!

In a perfect world a solution is found quickly.  Both parties come together and find a peaceful and amicable solution.  One that is mutually beneficial.  Everyone will have to compromise.  And rightly so.  The bigger picture should be seen.  Both sides should bend a bit towards the other and concede a bit as well.  Because if only one side “wins”, in the end no one actually wins either.

My mom was a teacher for years and years and years.  And throughout her entire teaching career, she taught at (for lack of a better and more descriptive word) ‘coloured’ schools.  She felt that there was a need in these communities.  When we lived in the platteland she taught at a few farm schools too.  We grew up, not really differentiating between ‘white’ and ‘coloured’ people.  They were just people to us.  My mom’s colleagues and visitors in our home and her pupils as well.  And during the early years of her teaching career, our country was burning too.  There was unrest and boycotting, as well as lots and lots of stone throwing.  People were fighting for a free and democratic South Africa.  A better South Africa.

One of my mom’s colleagues, many years later, regaled all with stories of her “marching for freedom” years.  She said she was young and not very clued up.  When there was a call for “the people to march and protest” she was there – boots and all.  It was all very exciting and the air of potential danger and a feeling of justification probably added to the allure.  She wasn’t always sure why they were marching, boycotting, dancing and singing freedom songs.  But none the less, she was there.  She remembers gathering en masse, with many other young people.  Fists raised up high, chanting and jeering with one loud voice “Big Corn Bites!  Big Corn Bites!  Big Corn Bites!”.  Over and over and over again.  Always the same freedom shout.  Always the “Big Corn Bites”.

It was only many years later that she discovered that the actual chant was “Biko fights”.  Yip, that would be Steve Biko.  Freedom fighter for equal rights.  Seen by many as the true father of our nation and democratic land.  I think there is perhaps a moral lesson in this.  I wonder if there are not perhaps many lurkers amongst our current strikers too.  People who don’t really understand the cause.  Not really labourers with a vested interest in fighting the good fight.  Merely extra’s in a play – filling up spaces and making the stage look full.

Either which way, I hope that the end is in sight.  That there is no more violence.  That a solution can be found.  No one is ever going to be 100% happy.  Perhaps being moderately happy is the best we can hope for. 

Because from my point of view, moderately happy is way better than what we’ve got now. 




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