Buyiswa Dayi lives on the Eastern Cape citrus farm where she was born, but now faces eviction by her employers despite seeming to have legal security of tenure.
Endulini Sundays Fruit (Pty) Ltd of Kirkwood, a prominent Eastern Cape citrus farm, is attempting to evict a 45-year-old farm worker and her two minor children, both of whom were born and raised on the farm.
The farm, located about 80km from Gqeberha, is one of the biggest producers of citrus fruits in the province.
Buyiswa Dayi was born on the farm and has lived there all her life. Despite this, she received a notice under the Extension of Security of Tenure Act that the farm owner would apply for an eviction order against her within two months.
The act stipulates that workers who were living on a farm on or before 4 February 1997 can be evicted only if they have damaged the property of the farmer, encouraged a "land invasion", threatened, harmed and intimidated anyone else living there, resigned from work, or if they have alternative accommodation.
Dayi, and everything she has done, does not fall into these categories.
Not the first time
Her parents - both of whom are over 60 years old and have lived on the farm for more than 10 years - are protected from eviction by the same act. Despite this, Dayi says Endulini previously tried to evict her father in 2007, even though he was then 62 and had been living on the farm for 40 years.
"This is the third time a white manager is trying to evict me. A manager gave my father a paper of eviction in 2007. They take chances. In 2016, another manager cut off my electricity and told me I'm not supposed to be there. I didn't get work that year. But we refused to go. In 2017, they just sent someone to call me back to work," said Dayi.
Dayi has worked for several years as a seasonal orange picker at Endulini. But this ended in April 2020, shortly after Endulini instructed her partner Wayne Piedt, 32, to leave the farm and he refused, telling them he would continue to live with her.
At this time, one of Dayi's relatives was allegedly told by Endulini area manager Elmar Oelofse that Dayi would not be hired for the harvest last year, because women could only work on the farm if they were married to a male Endulini farm worker. As Piedt had been dismissed six months earlier for being apparently intoxicated at work, Dayi "no longer qualified".
Endulini's financial manager Rob Wijnants denied this at the time, saying, "No, Mr Oelofse did not tell the relatives that. In fact he is not even involved in labour matters. You must understand that we have a business to run in very uncertain times and we cannot continue to reply to fictitious and baseless allegations."
But when last year's harvest season started, Dayi was not given any work and spent lockdown without any income.
'I am worried and stressed'
In early March, Oelofse had the sheriff serve Dayi with two months' notice under the act, indicating that he intended to apply to the courts to evict her.
The notice, also addressed to Piedt and listing the names of Dayi's two minor children Apiwe Dayi and Kuma Dayi, reads in part: "On or about 14 October 2019, you [Wayne Piedt] were dismissed from employment at Endulini Sundays Fruit (Pty) Ltd. Therefore Mr Wayne Piedt and those occupying through him [have] to vacate the premises [sic]."
Dayi does not, however, occupy her house "through" Piedt, who arrived at Endulini from Oudtshoorn, 340km away, to take up a job only in 2014. Dayi was born on the farm to her farm-worker parents, Nozibonelo Mavis Dayi, 71, and Xolile Dayi, 76. Both began working on the farm in 1967.
"I am worried and stressed because they just tell me to go out and I don't even have material to build a house somewhere. Even my first born was born on this farm in 1990," said Buyiswa.
Another recent problem at the farm is that the main gate to the farm workers' houses is locked every weekend between 5pm on a Friday and 7am on a Monday, she says. The farm workers are able to get in and out only on foot but no vehicles may enter or exit.
"An ambulance came for my mother when she was sick and it could not get in. The managers only gave two newer farm workers the key but they are not there on weekends most of the time. If my father wants to drive his car out, he must first call a friend with a car to drive around and find the key and bring it to him," says Dayi.
Is the law on Dayi's side?
Wendy Pekeur of the Ubuntu Rural and Youth Movement said that, legally, Dayi should win her case because she has lived on the farm since before 1997 and never resigned or committed any crimes against the owner. Dayi, however, has no lawyer and has never represented herself in court before.
Pekeur said, however, that because Dayi is unemployed, the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform should provide her with a pro-bono lawyer to contest her eviction.
The Sundays River Valley Farmworkers' Forum organises workers in the area, supported by the Gqeberha-based Khanyisa Educational and Development Trust.
New Frame reported in 2019 that Endulini owner Pieter Ferreira and a group of other commercial farmers had interdicted the Khanyisa Educational and Development Trust and the Kouga Farm Workers Reunion, and a group of farm workers and officials of these organisations, from saying anything negative publicly about the company. This after the groups organised a farm workers' protest about working conditions on the farm. Ferreira describes the oranges grown on the farm as the "Ferrari" of citrus.
Pressed for more information on the matter, Wijnants said, "The matter is sub judice and will be dealt with in court where all the parties will have the opportunity to present their cases. Under the circumstances we decline to comment."