Farm worker identities contested and reimagined: gender, race/ethnicity and nationality in the post-strike moment

DOI: 10.1080/23323256.2017.1401484
Author(s): Åsa ErikssonDepartment of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies, Sweden


In 2012/2013, widespread rural unrest — commonly referred to as the “farm worker strike” — broke out in the Western Cape, South Africa. This exposed not only poor salaries and working conditions, but also the disparity between representations of farm workers as too restrained by paternalism to dare challenge farmers and the open defiance displayed by protesters. Initial participants were identified as pertaining to categories of workers that for long were relegated to the discursive shadows in representations of Western Cape farm workers: seasonal and casual workers residing primarily off-farm, out of whom many were black South African women and migrants from neighbouring countries. Consequently, they were dismissed by some as not being (real) farm workers. This article explores the protests as a moment when contestations and renegotiations of the meaning of the category “farm worker” were brought to the surface. It suggests that paying attention to intersecting power relations of gender, race/ethnicity and nationality may illuminate silences and exclusions in representations of farm workers.

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