Changing labor, land and social relations on commercial farms: a case study from Limpopo, South Africa
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Over the past fifteen years, the South African government has extended various land, labour and social rights to farm workers, ranging from provisions of basic labour rights in 1993 to the minimum wage in 2003. Literature suggests that social relations on commercial farms do not remain static in the context of policy changes. This thesis sets out to understand the ways in which social relations have or have not changed, on one commercial farm in Limpopo province, South Africa, and to establish factors that impede or promote such change as well as the consequences for farm workers’ daily lives. Drawing from the interpretive and critical social science philosophical perspectives, the thesis adopts a qualitative research methodology that takes into consideration the experiences and perceptions of farm workers, farm managers, the farm owner and key informants from government institutions and civil society. At a theoretical level the study is informed by four paradigms namely: the materialist perspective; the total institution thesis; paternalism; and structuration theory. It considers three overlapping conceptual models of understanding relations between farm owners and farm workers namely the welfarist, workerist and transformative models. The paper argues that, in the past decade, the extension of farm labour and tenure laws to the farm sector has eroded the welfarist relations between the farm owner and farm workers. There is now a rise in workerist relations in a context of unequal power relations tilted in favour of the farm employer. The thesis concludes that in order to adequately understand land, labour and social relations, one has to consider the politics of land ownership as well as the politics of agricultural capitalist employment.