Gauteng Smallholder December/ January 2018 - Page 51

THE BACK PAGE Outwitting a wily worker L iving on a smallholding and employing rural workers often requires some unusual labour relations skills, combined on occasion with a little voodoo magic and some sleight of hand. Once upon a time there was a lady smallholder and her family who kept a few chickens. Like so often happens, the little flock came to be treated as pets rather than livestock, and they in turn provided the family with a few eggs daily, rather than gracing the table as roast dinner. It must be said that this took place at a time before the imposition of national minimum wages on farmworkers and other labour legislation aimed at bettering the financial lot of the rural work force. In fact it took place at a time when farm workers were paid pitifully and thus took every opportunity they could to keep themselves fed at their employers' expense. Thus it was that, one day at breakfast time, the smallholder's garden worker appeared at the kitchen door carrying a patently dead member of the flock. “I found the chicken dead in the hen-house,” he announced with a look of perfect innocence upon his face, presenting the lifeless corpse to the smallholder. “That's puzzling,” she exclaimed, “the chickens were all fine last evening when locked away.” And, taking the chicken from the worker she said, “Well, we'd better send this away to the vet so that he can examine it and tell us what killed it, so that we may prevent the spread of any disease to the others.” The garden worker, realising that he'd been blindsided by his employer, walked off muttering while the assembled family collapsed into fits of giggles. “Can't you see, Ma,” said the eldest, “that he wrung the chicken's neck because he wants to eat it, and he thought you'd give him the corpse!” “No, no,” said the mother, “ he would never do that. It must have contracted some fatal disease,” she insisted. So, later that morning she carefully wrapped the chicken in newspaper and set off to the local vet to have a post-mortem examination performed. “Leave it with us,” said the vet, trying hard to stifle his laughter when the smallholder told her tale. After a couple of days the smallholder phoned the vet to ask about the results of the post-mortem, to be told, “we could find no trace of parasites or disease, but we were able to conclude that the cause of death of your chicken was in fact that its neck had been wrung.” When the smallholder reported this sad verdict to the family she was met with cries of “I told you so!” And so the scoreboard read Smallholder 1, Worker 0. But the saga had an unexpected benefit to this episode in that the periodic neck-wringing of the family's chickens ceased forthwith as the worker came to realise that his daft employer would take the chicken from him and despatch it to the vet for an examination, rather than hand it back to be disposed of in whatever manner he chose. This experience happened to a friend of ours. But on our own plot we have sometimes had to resort to unusual measures when tackling staff relations. In one instance we had to employ the services of a sangoma to quell the deranged ravings of the wife of one of our workers whose diet comprised nothing more than CocaCola and white bread, a diet that is nutritionally unsound. On the appointed day the sangoma, whose day job was as a council meter reader, arrived in his smart khaki uniform. After the requisite payment had been made he quickly diagnosed the ailment and recommended a cure, which was that she be immersed into a bath of cold water to which he would add some black powder which, to the untrained western eye looked very much like coal dust. Needless to say she did not take kindly to being immersed in a cold bath and her struggles to keep herself out of the water were not unlike the struggles of a cat at bathtime. Eventually, her husband and the sangoma had her satisfactorily “dunked,” whereupon she grabbed the sangoma firmly by the lapels and hauled him in to the water, too. And so we were able to observe that a bath of cold water infused with coal dust does nothing to cure lunacy caused by a poor diet, but it certainly does everything to ruin a smart khaki uniform. WRITTEN BY SMALLHOLDERS, FOR SMALLHOLDERS