Response to: Maxim Bolt, ‘Mediated Paternalism and Violent Incorporation: Enforcing Farm Hierarchies on the Zimbabwean-South African Border’ (by Fran Hajat)

Response to: Maxim Bolt, ‘Mediated Paternalism and Violent Incorporation: Enforcing Farm Hierarchies on the Zimbabwean-South African Border’

by Fran Hajat

23 May 2016

Dr. Maxim Bolt spent eight months residing on one of the citrus farms that line the Zimbabwean/South African border. This is an area where people struggle to make a living or even survive – a situation that is based on large scale migration, transience and mass unemployment. Migrants crossing the Limpopo endure gangs who will rob, rape, or traffic, and steal from them. Either that or suffer at the hands of border soldiers and police whose offers of protection are often overshot with violence. Border police are known to demand sexual favours from apprehended women if they want to be released from custody. If and when these migrants are able to find employment they strive to obtain a sense of permanence as farm labourers in a place where everyday violence is still very much a factor albeit hidden from the outside world.

In a post-apartheid society the all-white farm owners and management would like the rest of the world to believe that paternalism has been swapped for a corporate-management style. The reality is these farms are governed by a hegemonic mix of paternalism and violence where white authority is never questioned. Top of the management chain are white superordinate patriarchs who delegate responsibility through black subordinate patriarchs. The racialized paternalism associated with pre-apartheid farm owners meant the owners had veritable carte blanch within their ‘little republics,’ and was often harsh and coercive environments. Today the border farmers try to expunge their vilified history by distancing themselves from their workers. Instead farm owners rely on senior black male workers or elders to govern and handle disputes amongst workers. These elders hold courts, can invoke vigilante justice and call on the coercive power of state employed border guards mete out justice to their subordinates and dependants.  Although seemingly removed from the day to day dealings of the labour force, white farmers use senior black workers to enforce farm hierarchies and as such both condone the use of violence and profit from it. Senior workers have no choice but to use vigilante justice if they are to keep their job and maintain their lifestyles.  These farm hierarchies are ordered along racial lines: White managers rarely enter the compound and have access to the tea room and the farmhouse – areas that are off limits to black workers.  Black managers are subordinate to their white counterparts. Farm workers sign for their payslips with fingerprints, regardless of their educational level.

The citrus farmers’ attempt to disassociate themselves from their past and adopt a new corporate style of farm management is in part driven by global markets. Buyers on the international market include British supermarkets who are more aware of workers’ rights and advocate Black Economic Empowerment.  By adopting a more corporate look and feel, owners seek to integrate themselves into the Global market and make themselves more attractive to buyers and consumers.