n Ubuntu : Journal of Conflict and Social Transformation - A review on the history of commercial farming in South Africa : implications for labour legislation

Volume 4, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 2078-760X
  • E-ISSN: 2050-4950


The article draws on existing literature on commercial farming in the apartheid era in South Africa to give a history of commercial farming in the country and the labour relations that arose from a racially-based and largely coercive labour market. Commercial agriculture in South Africa was historically state-subsidised and heavily state-regulated, thus ensuring the success of commercial farming in an otherwise futile industry. Indeed, the commercial farming industry was orchestrated and manipulated by state interventions which served to favour (predominantly White) commercial farmers to the neglect of their black workers. The nuances in the apartheid-driven regulations present unique labour relations between farmer and farm worker, referred to as 'paternalism'. The highly privatised farming spaces also strengthen this relationship, however to view this connection in a negative light is a one-sided and reduced ideology. There are indeed some benefits which can be identified from the connection, which present what is referred to as a 'micro-welfare state'. In this relationship that shapes the communities that existed on farms during the apartheid regime, one can identify better-off conditions (for farm workers) nested in the notion of 'paternalism'. This paper is drawn from the author's Master of Arts in Industrial Sociology thesis titled Changes and Continuities in the Labour Process on Commercial Farmsin Post-Apartheid South Africa : Studies from Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces which would not have been possible without the generous funding from the South Africa Netherlands Research Programme on Alternatives in Development (SANPAD) and the Rhodes University Levenstein Bursary award.

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