The Cane Cutter

It was late afternoon. The sun was nearing the end of her day time shift and almost resting her belly on the horizon of the Mafambisse sugar estate. All was still and calm.

Seemingly calm.

In an instant, the flick of a single match became a raging fire, gorging itself on anything in its path.

Furious fireI wanted to show my children the ‘might’ of a cane fire. I raced off to the far side of the estate and arrived in mid action.

In minutes the dusty sky had been consumed by thunderous black clouds that would pump out hot ash. The frenzied fire beneath would leap in all directions; exploding, crackling and spitting with fury. It was all very exciting.

My daughter, however, was not impressed.

She said to me,’ Mommy, look at that fire. It’s burning the sun!’

The sun is on fire   Cane Fire 

 I looked up and she was right. The flames had risen tens of metres high and seemed to curl around the sun, devouring her. After 10 minutes of trying to explain that the sun was also in fact made of fire – a ball of fire – I was met with a ‘clearly mom has gone mad’ kind of look. Her solution to the problem was that we’ll just have to use Daddy’s torch tomorrow.’ Needless to say, when she woke up this morning, she was pleasantly surprised to see the sun still shining!

The Cane Cutter

Every morning they arrive at work at 5 when the sun is still gentle and the dew has settled the dust. They work tirelessly until the field is flattened and all that remains are piles of burnt sugar cane.

Men at Work

Men at Work ii


Having pride in your work

Cane Cutter in action

Side ways


Cane Cutter iii   bikes   People Carriers


” A plea for the spinning wheel is a plea for recognising the dignity of labour.” – M.K.Gandhi


17 replies »

  1. Since I’m learning a lot about Africa continent. But also learn from the people who love him. I’m glad I discovered your blog. Because I can discover and learn more about the place I’m visistando.
    thanks for your blog ingreible

    • Thank you Carmen, I’m happy to hear that you have connected with my blog – Africa is indeed an extraordinary, complex and diverse continent!

  2. now these are the kinds of pics that should be blown up. put on canvas. and put into the club house. give it the atmosphere it needs in the enviroment it belongs!

  3. Among cane-cutters in North Queensland there used to be (maybe still is) a question and an answer:
    Q: is it better to carry a big bunch and walk or a small bunch and run?
    A: You carry a big bunch and run.
    So everywhere, a tough job.
    Nice, human, pictures.

    • Thank you Andy, it was a very rewarding experience for me in that it challenged my perception of them and put a face to the cane cutters. I’m definitely going back for more!

    • Thank you, they are hard working men indeed. Even during Winter we have some days that creep past 30 degrees, so you can only imagine what they feel like at the end of the day. But they are a tough bunch and their work brings in some well needed cash for their families. (Harvesting the cane is seasonal and not all year round)

  4. Wow. Stunning images. The one of the fire around the sun was intense! How old is your daughter? Her comment was cute.

    What hard lives these men lead. Did they tell you any of their stories? Why do they burn the sugar cane? (Forgive my ignorance.)

    As always, an enjoyable post.

    • Thanks Jessica! My daughter has just turned four and hasn’t quite grasped the planet/sun/moon concept! Back to the cane cutters – yes, they have it particularly hard in the way of physical work. It makes us appreciate our ‘pen pushing’ jobs all the more when we see what these men are tasked with. While it’s a damn hard job to do (all respect to these men), sugar companies world wide have the option to mechanise which is often a cheaper and more efficient way to harvest. But the governments and companies in developing countries are well aware of the necessity for operations like these in that they supply tens of thousands of jobs! Then last, why do they burn the sugar cane? Well it’s to get rid of all the leaves so that it is easier to cut and because most of the sugar is concentrated in the stem. I have not found a cane cutter to interview, yet! I think they will have an interesting story to tell. Thanks for the suggestion!