Seasonal work tensions in the agriculture sector

By Published On: 13th December 2022

The Masiphumelele community in Fish Hoek, Cape Town, were awarded the IJR 2007 Reconciliation Award. This community provided an example of what is possible when collaboration and a common sense of belonging were given a chance, between local communities and African foreign nationals. Given all the violence that accompanies the tensions between local communities and foreign nationals, it is often forgotten that it is these same local communities that ultimately bring an end to the violence. The challenge, however, is often how long the peace that is established can hold. Are there follow-through actions that are taken that help ensure that change in relations between locals and foreign nationals becomes permanent?

Among the recommendations was a call for local and migrant business people to find ways to work more collaboratively in the future whilst on the social cohesion front, the call was for cross-cultural learning to reduce misunderstandings and inter-cultural animosity or ignorance. The importance of following through on these recommendations was re-emphasized a year later in 2008 when the whole country was engulfed in a wave of violence against African foreign nationals.

A team of conflict mediators from the IJR became part of a network of civil society, academics, government and other role-players, brought together by the Human Sciences Research Council to look deeper into the drivers as well as factors that helped mitigate the violent scourge of 2008. Key among observations at that time was that it was in communities where there were weaker or no civic leadership structures where the violence against foreign nationals tended to be most brutal.

In 2022 South Africans have seen new dimensions to the tensions between locals and African foreign nationals. These include allegations that crime syndicates now exist which are run by foreign nationals, that some foreign nationals monopolise job opportunities and reserve them only for their networks and the allegation that high numbers of foreign nationals make it difficult for locals to access health and other government services. Two years ago, an IJR project that promotes dialogue to mitigate tensions and conflicts in the Western Cape agriculture sector, came across some of these new tensions in the Robertson area in the Western Cape.

Known as the Social Dialogue in Agriculture project, this is a partnership project with the Western Cape Department of Agriculture. Essentially, it capacitates leaders with conflict analysis and dialogue mediation skills and then provides institutional support to these leaders, through dialogue platforms established with them. As the IJR team and the local leaders in Robertson engaged with their municipality to respond to the Robertson tensions, it became clear that the issue extends beyond that town into the wider Cape Winelands area.

A more systematic analysis of this type of conflict was conducted in the project and it showed that the conflict emerges from a much wider interplay of factors that ALL need to be attended to. In this most recent case, therefore, the economic conditions of South Africa’s neighbouring countries, the current unstoppable global trend of migration that reaches as far as Europe, intra-provincial migration of job-seekers that follows harvesting periods of different types of fruit as well as the roles of different tiers of government and their departments that need to complement one another.

Using the broad term of Seasonal Work Tensions to refer to this intervention, the project has therefore worked with networks of government officials, sector and community dialogue leaders from across the province. It is contributing to interventions in the Robertson [Cape Winelands] and Swartberg [West Coast] municipal areas, with Swartberg being the most recent site where local communities protested against losing jobs to foreign nationals. In both cases, the project’s social dialogue platforms have enabled the peacebuilding efforts to be aware of more nuances to the issues and win the trust of role-players that are not easily accessible to the peacebuilding processes.

The analysis of the conflict as it pertains to each area has been shared amongst a wider network of stakeholders, and linkages and collaboration have led to trust and collaboration being strengthened between previously hostile stakeholder groups, especially between local job-seekers and farmers [earlier accused of favouring foreign nationals at the expense of local job-seekers]. New ways of working have been agreed to and platforms for both the local and foreign national job-seekers to access government information and services have been created. Stronger collaboration has been created between the municipality, the SAPS, the departments of Labour, Home Affairs and Agriculture, and labour brokers that cater to locals, foreign nationals, and employers amongst others.

In conclusion, the need for more effective collaboration amongst and within all stakeholder groups cannot be over-emphasized. Attitudes and behavior can change quite rapidly around this issue and constant collaboration and solution-seeking is needed. These become possible only when ALL stakeholder groups are within reach of each other, including the key actors from the migrant communities themselves.

Kenneth Lukuko, The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s Senior Project Leader

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