The meaning of compliance with land and labour legislation: understanding justice through farm workers’ experiences in the Eastern Cape

Published in: Anthropology Southern Africa
Volume 39, issue 3, 2016 , pages: 215–231
DOI: 10.1080/23323256.2016.1211020
Author(s): Femke BrandtCentre for African Studies, South Africa, Fani NcapayiCentre for African Studies, South Africa


This paper explores the social meanings and uses of formal labour legislation on commercial farms in the Eastern Cape. Farm workers’ and dwellers’ experiences expose ongoing land and labour struggles on South Africa’s commercial farms. We focus on the ways that farm workers resist and negotiate persistent power imbalances, how they access justice, and the role of mediators. The empirical material was generated through long-term research with farm workers and dwellers on farms, including on land-reform farms, in the semi-arid Karoo. In this area, the farming sector is dominated by large sheep, cattle, game and crop farms with relative low labour demands. Historically, authority and notions of justice have been negotiated through personalised relations and interdependencies between black workers and white farmers. New landowners build on existing understandings of authority and power entrenched in private property relations in rural society.

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