Reflections on the 2nd Annual Symposium of the Social Dialogue in Agriculture program

By Published On: 20th October 2021

Kenneth Lukuko: Institute for Justice and Reconciliation Senior Project Leader

The convening of the 2nd Annual Symposium of the Social Dialogue in Agriculture program was critical in maintaining momentum within the Panels across the Western Cape. The COVID 19 pandemic and the countrywide lockdown in early 2020, resulted in the cancelation of the 2020 Annual Symposium and prevented the Panels from meeting in person for much of the remainder of the year. Given the critical role of the Agriculture sector in the food security of the country, farm-labours as essential workers, had to continue going to work while in most other sectors workers stayed at home. This meant that if the usual work-related tensions had arisen Panels would have been unable to respond to requests for interventions.

Given the constraints of the national lockdown due to COVID 19 regulations, this year’s edition of the event was held online. This proved to be an exciting innovation as people no longer had to contend with traveling long distances and dealing with all the accompanying challenges of travel. Concerns over the amount of hours spent online and the challenges of online connectivity had to be mitigated throughout. Despite all of the above, many would agree that this year’s event was an outstanding success.

Unlike the in-person meetings where a limited number of delegates per Panel could attend, meeting online meant that anyone who could connect online could attend, ensuring that there were many new attendees to the Symposium. For some attendees, meeting online was a first time experience and the project team worked hard to facilitate this. As a result of this year’s event, the project has grown in a number of new dimensions. The Provincial Advisory Group is getting more direct connection with the work and the people directly involved in all of the Panels, as the Field Process Facilitators are now a regular feature of this Quarterly meeting. New approaches and strategies are being explored by the Provincial Advisory Group in advising on some of the more intractable dialogue challenges, with the Garden Route Farms and the Knoflokskraal engagements being two key cases.

There was a definite sense of resuscitation with some Panels, especially since the session gave time to interrogate and build deeper connection between the new team of Field Process Facilitators and those Panels that did not have such mentorship before September 2020.

Common issues that persistently emerge and demand attention and intervention across more than one Panel were identified through the various Panel presentations. Key among these was the issue of dialogue on seasonal work and foreign national workers and the new tensions this gives rise to in the respective communities. In some cases these tensions included the taxi sector with new entrants from the foreign nationals. The Robertson and Witzenberg Panels attested to this being a challenge in both their areas. With this case in mind, the long-held intention to form a kind of looser network of Panellists who share insights and collaborate from across the Panels is emerging more organically.

This newsletter therefore aims to facilitate the sharing of insights and serve as further incentive for fostering greater collaboration across Panel boundaries. The more panellists get to know and benefit from the insights of counterparts in other districts, the higher the possibility for impact in more strategic ways in the province’s agricultural sector.

Mr Ronald Balie: Witzenberg (Ceres) Social Dialogue Panel member

Inhoud van gesprekke

Die Covid-19 pandemie het noodwendig minder inter-menslike kontak veroorsaak en gevolglik minder effektiewe kommunikasie tot gevolg gehad. Tegnologie kan net op `n sekere vlak die essensie van `n boodskap oordra. Met IJR se 2 dae simposuim is egter geslaag om die gevoel van “alleen-wees in jou pogings om die saak te dien” te verander na `n ervaring van “ek is deel van” `n groter en suiwer inisiatief van diensbaarheid in gemeenskappe.

Die herontdekking van eiesoortige, asook soortgelyke probleme en uitdagings was ter gelyk verhelderend en insiggewend. Migrasie arbeiders, onwettige taxis, behuising, werksgeleenthede,asook verdeling en konflik in tradisionele homogene belange- groeperinge, bv Nduli in Witzenberg.

Hernude insigte verkry

Onpartydigheid as fassiliteerder is noodsaaklik. Jy moet nie `n eie- belang, of `n groeps-belang dien of verteenwoordig nie. As fassiliteerder moet jy `n vermaarde/geen ego hê, ten einde konflik te minimaliseer.

Die besef dat ongeaffilieerde bondgenote met dieselfde IJR-missie op verskillende vlakke en wyses reeds bestaan. Hierdie bondgenote moet dalk net strategies genetwerk word. Plaaslike gemeenskaps-, kerklike-, en sport- en sosiale-groeperinge, asook plaaslike radiostasies kan baie effektief ingespan word.

Wat sal ek anders doen

Ek sal `n meer geduldige benadering hê en nie my rol as fassiliteerder oordadiglik verrig nie. Ander enersdenkendes kan baie keer met groter sukses konflik verminder en met groter pragmatism oplossings bewerkstellig


Kommunikasie tussen Paneel-lede moet meer gereeld geskied deur Zoom-vergaderings. Waar moontlik moet ons “face-to-face” kan ontmoet, soos wat Covid-maatreêls dit toelaat. Daar is `n groter inspirasie en besieling in die besef van behoort tot `n sigbare “groter- as- ek- groep”

Faiza Davids: West Coast Social Dialogue Panel member

What about the event itself stood out for you?

Unfortunately, I missed out on the presentations due to another scheduled meeting I had. But the themes that had been addressed are all important and relevant to the period we are living in. The pandemic has exacerbated and unearthed the many cleavages that exist in our society. Raw opinions, views, statements, and advancements on a plethora of issues emerged. The over-arching theme for me would be that of Social Cohesion. It encompasses many of the other themes and can be viewed as society’s compass. There can be diversity in adversity and it is in how we are able to respond that enables social cohesion.

What have you heard or learnt that you will always be mindful of and maybe use in future interactions or tasks?

Some panellists are very strong in delivering their inputs on certain topics, especially around group/power dynamics.  I’m very passionate about people having a fair chance to articulate their views in whichever way or language they feel comfortable in. The gender gap between males and females, ageism, culture, race, and religion come into play when we are in a group setting. I discovered this in the webinar too. We are no different as panellists when we come together. I applaud the other panels for having such a wealth of experience dealing with very intricate issues. I realised that an effective process is one where core issues emerge and evolve into cohesive solutions. It takes hard work and commitment to create a space for social dialogue and one can relate to and learn from hearing from other panels. I’ve learned that being part of positive change is not always easy and that one evolves as a person through the process. One needs to remain mindful to being open-minded and objective as far as possible. Another learning for me is to be able to be honest and recuse yourself from an issue if there is a conflict of interest.

What will you do differently because of this symposium?

It is a bit difficult to say because Riebeek Valley Issue Based Network wasn’t launched and it faced a few challenges including people leaving the area and not responding due to other commitments. Despite these challenges, it is important that one continues with hope and engage with people that show an interest in being part of this process.

Any other thoughts, maybe your thoughts on interacting with other Panels, the camaraderie etc.

It was great meeting other panels and seeing and listening to the issues they have dealt with, the issues the panels faced within their group, how they overcame challenges and how they remain able to work through the many issues their communities face. The Oak Valley matter in Grabouw and De Doorns will always be interesting to follow and recently in Witzenberg. It gives other panels the knowledge on how to deal with issues.

What I liked in this webinar was the emphasis on dealing with conflict systems rather than geographical conflict issues. Here we can tap into the knowledge systems of others interacting and engaging in these conflict systems. I hope that Riebeeck Valley Issues Based Network can be revived and that we get assistance. Last time we met with Mzu, and agreed that establishing a Tourism Dialogue Panel could be a low hanging fruit and one that may come with its own conflict system.

Anghick Barnes Jonas: Consultant – Central Karoo

The webinar was well organised and created a safe space for productive reflection by the panel members, IJR staff and IJR Process Facilitators. The webinar was well structured and very informative. The space promoted democratic participation and sharing of challenges, successes and recommendations and realising the expertise of panel members.

Constructive engagements with all role players and decision makers may lead to resolve many issues and challenges that communities experience. What is encouraging is that there is a future, and the journey has been interesting and challenging. Panel members are an inspiration and their competence and ability to raise energy, confidence and commitment is a true blessing for their respective communities and society at large through volunteerism.

They showed good understanding of community dynamics and difficulties and has given me the courage to believe that a new world is possible. The exchange of information was powerful and the challenges/dynamics in most cases is very common which could in turn lead to greater mobilisation.

The webinar deepens our understanding of the work and practice/function of the different panels, and the information was so relevant. I recommend, if possible, a six-monthly reflection of this nature in future.

Rufus Maans: Central Karoo Social Dialogue Panel member

The Zoom Panel Webinar was very great but the nature of this programme is built on interpersonal relationships and partnerships. It’s my humble submission that virtual meetings degrade the level of participation and commitment and have eroded some of the precious relationships we have built with partners over many years.

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