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1. Introduction Previous studies have highlighted the history and persistence of poor working conditions on many South African farms (Marcus, 1989; Jeeves & Crush, 1997; O’Conchuir, 1997; Crush et al., 2000; Department of Labour, 2001; SAHRC, 2003). During the 1990s, eastern Free State vegetable farmers became increasingly reliant on migrants from neighbouring Lesotho to meet their seasonal labour needs (Johnston, 1997; Sechaba Consultants, 2004). This trend coincided with a major downsizing of the mine labour force in South Africa, hitherto the major employer of Basotho migrant workers (Seidman, 1995; Sechaba Consultants, 1997; Crush et al., 2001). However, there was no simple process of transfer of unemployed migrants from one sector (mining) to another (farming). Rather, decisions on who would migrate were mediated by domestic relationships and household poverty within Lesotho. One of the major casualties of mine retrenchments and the drying-up of remittances has been women, not men (Coplan & Thoalane, 1995). Women and girls with domestic skills but little formal training have been forced into the labour market. Their options are very limited – confined, in the main, to domestic work in Free State towns and labour on Free State farms. This chapter is based on the findings of a Southern African Migration Programme (SAMP) survey of 152 Basotho farmworkers (including 40 undocumented workers). The farms concerned were located in six different districts in the eastern Free State: Ladybrand, Clocolan, Ficksburg, Fouriesburg, Bethlehem and Reitz, and ranged from 250 hectares to 5 000 POVERTY, GENDER AND MIGRANCY: LESOTHO'S MIGRANT FARMWORKERS IN SOUTH AFRICA THERESA ULICKI AND JONATHAN CRUSH 10 Chapter|164| hectares in size. The labour force varied from 35 employees to 1 300, with the number of Basotho employees ranging from 12 to 889. Supplementary interviews were undertaken with Free State farmers and farmers’ unions, labour and home affairs officials in both countries and representatives of SAAPAWU (South African Agricultural Plantations and Allied Workers’ Union) and the National Union of Farmworkers (NUF). Documentary sources include the Labour Agent’s agreements entered into by the government of Lesotho and farmers, farmworkers ’ contracts, and the inspection reports by Lesotho Ministry of Labour representatives in Welkom, South Africa. 2. The Regulatory Framework There is a pervasive assumption in South Africa that all Lesotho citizens working in the country are (with the exception of contract miners) illegal. This is certainly not the case. South Africa has had a bilateral treaty with Lesotho (signed in the 1970s and still in force) allowing South African employers to recruit temporary labour in Lesotho on legal contract (Crush & Tshitereke, 2001). Before the 1990s, the treaty was used only by The Employment Bureau of Africa (TEBA) and various smaller companies recruiting exclusively for the gold and coal mines. With the expansion of the market gardening industry in the Free State, there was a need for a mechanism which would allow farmers to recruit labour legally in Lesotho. The bilateral treaty served the purpose well. Farmers or their agents recruit labour at the Labour Offices of the Ministry of Labour in Lesotho. They must obtain what is called a ‘no-objection’ or BI-17 permit from the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa, which they bring to Lesotho. They are issued with a Labour Agent’s Licence permitting them to recruit a certain number of workers from a specific district. A separate licence is issued for each district in which the farmer may recruit. Licences are valid for either six months (R75) or one year (R150). Farmers are also required to pay R10.15 for each farmworker recruited. A contract is completed for each recruit that stipulates the terms and conditions of employment, including rate of remuneration, type of accommodation and type of medical service provided. Farmers’ contracts with the Lesotho government specify that they must provide free transport to and from the place of employment, free accommodation, three free meals daily and medical care. However, the Lesotho Ministry of Labour neither sets minimum standards for accommodation, meals and medical care nor ensures that farmers adhere to the conditions laid down in the contracts. Approximately 7–10 000 Basotho per annum are recruited legally through Lesotho’s Ministry of Labour. One-third of the farmers interviewed use the services of a recruiter, generally another farmer, to hire Basotho. The largest agency in Maseru, Lesotho – Agrilabour – recruits approximately 2 000 Basotho each year for asparagus and potato farmers. Technically, before a Labour Agent’s Licence is issued to a farmer, the Lesotho labour representative in South Africa should inspect...


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