South Africa: FAWU’s work and the Women Workers’ Forum at the Sezela sugar mill

There are ninety-eight women working at the Sezela sugar estate, with about 60 percent of them in the Administration and Human Resources departments, followed by the Downstream Operations area with some 20 percent and the remaining are workers in the Factory and also apprentices. These are the numbers of women workers in Sezela, says Nelisiwe Nxumalo, introducing the work of FAWU with women workers in Sezela, a task that is also part of the joint work that IUF Sugar develops with FAWU, under the IUF Sugar project in Kenya and South Africa.

Until last year, 2012, a Women’s Committee existed in Sezela, but it was dissolved because some trust issues. Nelisiwe recounts how the dissolution of the Committee was a very difficult experience, brought about by the mishandling of some allegations of sexual harassment, which had been reported by some women. Quite unfortunately, information on the cases was leaked outside the Committee and women felt betrayed and isolated. A decision was taken to elect new leaders, who were asked to move the work forward.  Nelisiwe was elected as chair of the Women’s Forum. Two others were appointed to represent the Women’s Forum at the Equity Employment meetings.

The Sezela Women’s Forum is currently concerned with implementing codes of conduct, especially pertaining sexual harassment. They have approached management to discuss several matters, and has also worked to ensure that training programs are available for women. Among activities developed are, for instance, social functions on Women’s Day 2013 and Christmas, while on Women’s Day 2012 , forty-nine women went to Mandawe (a centre helping to feed needy people) and, with the support from the company, they donated of some furniture and planting new seedlings.

The Sezela Sugar Mill is situated on KwaZulu Natal’s South Coast, about 60 Km south from Durban, with a labour force of 460 permanent workers. The mill consists of a sugar factory and downstream products, the latter produced from bagasse from the sugar cane. Daily crushing capacity is reported between 10,000- 12,000 tonnes of cane day, with a weekly production of some 65,000 tonnes of sugar. Downstream products include Furfural and furfuryl alcohol, and methanol, among others. Area under cane is recorded at  41,430 hectares. Sezela Sugar is part of the Illovo Sugar conglomerate, which is owned by Associated British Foods (ABF).

Information from a written interview with Nelisiwe Nxumalo, Chair, Sezela Women’s Forum


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    • Miriam Wanyama on September 16, 2013 at 8:11 am

    It is encouraging to understand the work Women do to support each other.Having a Women Committee in place is not something easy.In most cases perpetrators of the law would always want to work for the down fall of such good things.But I just want to encourage my fellow Women in Sezela that struggle for workers rights never ends and we should never tire.
    You can also make the Women Committee be part of the Union constitution so that it is more solid, meaning you cannot just wake up one day and dissolve.In Kenya,Women Forums (committees) are part of the Union constitution,and we have managed a lot,no one can suppress us!!

    • Nelisiwe Nxumalo on October 19, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Miriam, believe me it is not easy at all especially dealing with diverse nation. But we are getting there and hope to win this battle one day.

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