De Doorns, Western Cape - Police used a water cannon to disperse striking farmworkers gathered on the N1 highway in De Doorns, in the Western Cape, on Thursday.

The strikers were blocking the highway with two tractors, and moved towards the water cannon, which was sandwiched between two police armoured vehicles.

They abandoned the tractors when police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at them.

Smoke, caused by small fires, billowed from several points along the N1.

It was not immediately clear who started the fires, but a number of people at the scene said they were caused by police stun grenades.

Several police officers were stationed outside one farm, where strikers allegedly broke a gate.

Earlier, armoured vehicles were deployed to the highway, and scores of riot police tried to defuse the situation.

The highway has been closed to traffic since the strike, which was suspended in December, resumed on Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, thousands of protesting workers taunted the police, pelting them with rocks. Police fired rubber bullets in retaliation.

The Bawsi Agricultural Workers' Union of SA (Bawusa) claimed nine people had been injured by rubber bullets since Wednesday.

“Pat Marran, the ANC Boland chairman, was taken to hospital after being shot by private security,” said Bawusa general secretary Nosey Pieterse.

Pieterse said close to 6000 workers were on strike in De Doorns. Protests were also taking place in Grabouw and Wolseley.

On Wednesday, Lt-Col Andre Traut said 44 people had been arrested.

Workers went on strike last year, demanding an increase in their daily wages from R69 to R150, and the implementation of a “coherent” land reform programme.

At least two people were killed in protests between August 27 and December 4. Strikers also set fire to several farms.

The strike was suspended following an undertaking that negotiations would continue between workers' representatives and individual farmers, but this process proved unsuccessful. - Sapa