7 April 2009

South Africa: Farm Workers Announce Election Boycott

Cape Town — A collection of farmworker organisations have announced a boycott of April 22 general elections, slamming political parties for failing to address their needs.

At a meeting in Wolseley in the Western Cape last weekend, organised by the farm worker union Sikhula Sonke, the majority of 150 representatives from farm worker organisations around the country announced they would not vote in the elections, said Sikhula Sonke general secretary Wendy Pekeur.

Sikhula Sonke estimates that there are one million farm workers in South Africa, but believes these farm workers have not benefited from democracy and continue to live in poor conditions, with many not receiving a basic minimum wage and subject to illegal evictions.

Pekeur said the silence of political parties on the needs of farm workers would cost them votes.

She said 70% of the representatives had come to the meeting with a mandate from their members not to vote.

Pekeur said COPE was not an alternative because the party had adopted "the same liberal policies as the ANC". There leadership was also drawn from the ANC.

Sikhula Sonke member and Wellington farm worker Kitty de Kock said she would not be voting because political parties only made "empty promises".

"I am tired and very upset because they simply forget about us after the elections as we have not seen any benefits yet since voting the ANC into power," she said.

However the Black Association of Wine and Spirits Industry (BAWSI), who also attended the meeting, had taken a decision that they would encourage members to vote in the upcoming elections, said chairperson Samuel de Koker.

He said, however, that the organisation was demanding better service delivery and improved living and working conditions.

Responding to the news, ANC communications manager Steyn Speed said much had been done over the last 15 years to improve the lives of farm workers. This included land redistribution and restitution, and legislation to give security of tenure and a minimum wage for farm workers.

However Speed said the ANC election manifesto acknowledged that there was a lot that needed to be done to develop rural areas as there was still a lack of basic services.

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