Paternalism and Law: The micropolitics of farm workers’ evictions and rural activism in the Western Cape of South Africa
Nolan, Pauline J
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This thesis deals with the micro-politics of farm workers’ evictions. It documents farm workers’ narratives of the processes of eviction and displacement from farms in the Western Cape of South Africa. It analyses farm relations and their relationship with law, through the eyes of farm workers and through the legal actors who assist them with representation and by lobbying on their behalf. In particular, it focuses on the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (62) of 1997, which was implemented to protect farm workers from the large scale evictions that were taking place on farms and as part of a broader land reform programme. Drawing particularly on the work of Andries Du Toit, who has written about paternalism on Western Cape Farms (eg. 1998) and more recently on the impact of policy (2002), and on Blair Rutherford’s arguments relating to farm workers’ organisation in Zimbabwe, I argue that (neo)paternalistic sociality on farms is constantly being renegotiated in spite of and because of new laws, and through involvement of other influences such as locally based paralegals. The core of my argument is that farm workers are ‘liminal’ in this moment, particularly in the negotiation of eviction and housing tenure, as they operate both within the limits of paternalism where they can, and increasingly through ‘access to justice’ and related concepts. The boundaries of these discourses and social spaces are constantly shifting back and forth as farm dwellers are influenced by worker organisation as espoused by NGOs, and by increased interaction and understanding with and of laws that protect them; at the same time as they are influenced by their relationships with farm owners and other farm workers, or by paternalism. The anthropological fieldwork upon which the thesis is based was multi-sited, conducted between February 2002 and September 2003. The thesis follows the work of NGOs and paralegals, and the life histories and recent legal experiences of farm workers. The importance of the interaction between farm workers with law and its interlocutors should not be underestimated even in a context where laws such as ESTA in fact offer limited protection to farm workers’ security of tenure. These interactions must be understood in the contexts of continuing but ever renegotiated forms of gendered and racialized paternalism, of a changing economic, legal and political landscape. The thesis is therefore concerned with these spheres of influences and the micro-dynamics of legal and political contestation in the rural Western Cape.