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Minimising Risk of Farm Unrest in Turbulent Times

In light of the rising financial pressure and political discontent, producers would be prudent to create strategies to prevent and effectively manage unrest on their farms, especially in the run-up to the local elections in August his year. Glenneis Kriel investigates ways in which producers could minimise risks.


Political unrest is not unique to South Africa. As a matter of fact, social unrest seems to have been increasing across the world due to economic inequalities and uncertainty. The most extreme example is most probably the Arab Spring, which started at the end of December 2010 in Tunisia and spread throughout the Middle East in 2011.

With rising food prices, the economic slow-down and an escalation in service protests in South Africa, it only makes sense that producers create a strategy to safeguard themselves against such actions. Such a strategy should take the following five principles into consideration, according to Carl Opperman, chief executive officer of Agri Wes Cape.


  1. Good Labour Relations

Good relationships with employees are crucial to such a risk management strategy. Producers need to know what is happening on their farms and whether workers are happy with their work environment. Regular meetings with workers or worker committees could help to forge and maintain good relationships, while helping to address dissent before it snowballs into something unmanageable.

“Having a good relationship with workers not only allows farmers to address grievances before they erupt into full blown strikes, but also improves farm surveillance. When workers trust you, they will take your interests to heart. They will inform you if they hear or see something bad is going to happen,” Opperman said.


  1. Control Access

Having people come and go on the farm as they please, pose a security risk to farmers and their workers. Therefore there should be rules and procedures in place about movement on the property. On a large farm, booms and security officers might be needed at entrance points with a “signing in and out system” for visitors. On smaller farms control measures could be a little more informal.

Each farm should have a private property notice: “Private property, right of admission reserved” and people should only be allowed on a farm if they have permission from the owner to be there. Producers should inform the police immediately of trespassing or if a person doesn’t want to leave the premises.

The farming community should also be on the look-out for suspicious looking vehicles. Details of these vehicles should be noted in terms of registration number, make and model of car, as well as persons in the vehicle. Take photos of such people and vehicles; create a profile and identify possible trends. Doing this would also help to create valuable evidence during strikes. It is also advised to avoid direct confrontation and rather inform the police of suspicious activities.


  1. Know your weaknesses

The farm has to be analysed and key points should be identified with reference to homesteads, crèches, outbuildings, sheds, storage places, packing houses, drying yards, cold rooms, fuel tanks, flammable products, such as chemicals, crates and packaging material. A plan then also needs to be developed to protect farm workers and their families. The workers and their families should be aware of this plan and understand the importance of not discussing the plan with strangers.


  1. Contingency plans

Each region should develop a contingency plan. Farmers should work together and share information. In this regard WhatsApp has proved to be a valuable communication tool, as many people can be communicated to at the same time with this application. Radio communication also remains important.

Farm watch structures have to be incorporated into the Community Police Forum structure. When security companies are used, producers should ensure the company is registered with Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA), officials are fully trained and that firearms are registered in the name of the relevant company. The police needs to be notified of problems as soon as possible, to activate the rural protection plan.


  1. Stay calm

Producers need stay as calm as possible and try not to become unnecessarily involved in any confrontation. “Don’t sow panic and stay away from social media, such as twitter or Facebook,” said Opperman.

He advised farmers to contact their regional Agri SA representative and labour law expert to help with mediation. “A producers can indicate a willingness to discuss matters with strikers, while making it clear that the behaviour of the group is contrary to legislation. The group should be asked to put their grievances in writing and appoint a trade union representative or representative of the worker committee to negotiate on their behalf.”

Producers need not sign anything if they are not comfortable with it: If in doubt, write at the bottom of the page, “I hereby acknowledge receipt”, with your signature and date, and do not sign anywhere else on the page.


A Grower’s Advice

Rossouw Cillie, who farms at Laastedrif, emphasizes the importance of good relationships and communication between farm workers and staff members: “We have installed a service telephone that is manned twenty-four seven, so workers can inform us of problems and grievances before they get out of hand.”

He added that his farms have good access control with clear rules regulating the movement of people on and off the farm. “People who live on the farm are aware of these regulations and that these rules are there to protect them and their families,” he said.


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