Cops fire rubber bullets at farm strikers
Western Cape - Police fired rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of striking farm workers in South Africa’s prime grape-growing region on Wednesday after a protest for higher wages turned violent.
Scores of police clad in riot gear fired rubber bullets at the strikers, who hurled stones from behind barricades of burning tyres, according to a Reuters reporter on the scene in De Doorns.
The strike in the Western Cape, also home to the country’s multi-billion dollar wine industry, restarted on Wednesday after being suspended in December, when warehouses were set on fire and at least two workers died in clashes with police.
The farm workers, many of them seasonal workers employed to pick and pack fruit, want their minimum daily wage of R69 more than doubled to R150. They also wanted a coherent land reform programme.
Early yesterday morning strikers were turning away trucks and buses in the Wolesley area to stop non-striking farm workers to go to work on Wednesday, SABC radio news reports.
They had also closed a road into a nearby township.
It was also reported that farmers in the Hex River Valley had employed private security personnel to protect their property against strikers.
Two people were killed and property worth millions was destroyed between August 27 and December 4. The strike was then suspended.
Last week the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) announced that the strike would resume on Wednesday following failed pay negotiations with Agri-SA and government.
On Tuesday, Agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg warned farmworkers to think about their jobs before participating in the strike.
Van Rensburg said police and authorities in the Boland had not received notification of the strike from unions as of Tuesday evening.
He said this made any gathering or demonstration by farmworkers illegal.
“It is an unprotected strike. Farmworkers must think very carefully whether they want to risk their jobs by joining in the strike,” Van Rensburg said.
Provincial police commissioner and chairman of the Western Cape joint operational co-ordinating committee Lieutenant-General Arno Lamoer said anyone who broke the law would be arrested and prosecuted.
The Western Cape government has also activated its provincial disaster management centre at Tygerberg Hospital, from which it is to co-ordinate and respond to any possible labour unrest on farms, said Local Government MEC Anton Bredell.
He said disaster management officials would be “monitoring areas diligently” with the police and district disaster management centres across the province.
“All necessary government departments and stakeholders, such as the emergency services and other response agencies, have been placed on high alert in preparation for the strike action,” Bredell said. “Contingency plans have been established for various potential threats.”
Lamoer said farmworkers had the right to peaceful protests to voice their concerns and grievances, as long as they did so within the bounds of the law, respecting the rights of others.
“We urge farmworkers to protest within the boundaries of the law and refrain from using violence during their actions,” Lamoer said. “We will act against anyone who breaks the law and they will be arrested and prosecuted.”
The strike was suspended last year when workers agreed with Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to give farm owners and the government a chance to discuss wages for farmworkers pending a review this year of the sectoral determination.
Parties agreed that workers and farm owners would continue with farm-to-farm negotiations, while unions would recruit more members during the holidays.
– Nampa-Sapa-Reuters-Cape Argus