The families of 27 permanent workers on the farm Protea outside Elgin say they face an uncertain future because of a deal that is not working out as it was planned.

Since the beginning of the year the workers have been without water for two months, without electricity for two more, and without wages between April and 4 July. They say they mostly live from donations by shops, churches and charity organisations such as the ACVV and Elgin Round Table, on this 74 hectare apple and plum farm.

According to Vuyani Nkasayi, head of communications at the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform of the Western Cape, the department acquired the farm from a private owner in June last year for R11,6 million for the farm itself, and another R1 million for the machinery and equipment. The department entered into a lease agreement with two co-lessees, who Nkasayi says have many years experience in the farming sector.

Nkasayi emphasises that the deal is not a BEE initiative. “The lease works as such; if there are people interested in farming, then they apply and they are kept on the database of the department and when we acquire a farm, we then interview the applicants and successful applicants get a lease agreement.”

But, says Nkasayi, the farm has not generated income of late, and the money the department had aimed to raise by November last year to “keep the farm running”, has not been secured to date.

Nkasayi said the department is aware of the situation on the farm. “One of the reasons people did not get paid was because the farm did not generate any money to pay them.”

“They are all permanent workers, with families to support,” said Mekie Plato, ward councillor for Protea, about the 27 affected workers. Plato expressed concern about their future because they were apparently asked to go on unpaid leave from 23 June to 9 July.

Edward van Niekerk, one of the two lessees who were present during a recent hand-over of food parcels on the farm, was contacted to give clarity and more detailed information on the terms of the lease agreement, but did not want to comment.

Upon a question about the future of the farm and its workers, Nkasayi said the department will “communicate that when we are ready”.

“We don’t know where we stand and we are very unhappy with the current situation and we don’t know what the future holds for us,” one of the farm workers said yesterday. “Something has to be done here; we receive absolutely no benefits. We have spoken amongst ourselves and believe that government should give us part of the shares of the farm as we are the ones working the land.”

By Annette Theron