Farmworkers’ protests gain momentum

Wiseman Khuzwayo and Sapa

A policeman was injured by a stone thrown by a protesting farmworker in Ceres, Western Cape yesterday, as the blame game between worker representatives, government agencies and farmers shifted the focus from progress on the negotiating table.

Thousands of farm workers took to the streets in De Doorns going from farm to farm getting more labourers to join their march. The wage negotiations have broken down into finger pointing as unrest spreads across other Western Cape rural areas. Photo: Brenton Geach

The protests have spread from De Doorns, Ceres, Robertson, Prince Alfred Hamlet and Somerset West, to Riebeek-Kasteel, Citrusdal, Piketberg, Grabouw and Villiersdorp.

“The Western Cape police are dealing with several unrest situations relating to the wage dispute by farmworkers, and currently 14 areas are potentially affected,” Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut confirmed.

Workers have been protesting since last week, demanding a wage increase from R69 a day to R150, and improved living and working conditions.

About 10 people were arrested on Monday for public violence and intimidation.

The Black Association of the Agriculture Sector (Bawsi) said many farmers were guilty of intimidating their employees.

Bawsi president Nosey Pieterse said the association had been moving through De Doorns since yesterday “rescuing” workers.

“We have been marching through the farm roads in De Doorns to pick up those workers who called us, saying they were intimidated by farmers and threatened with evictions.”

“We travelled 10km by foot with a Nyala [armoured police van] in front of us, and about 1 000 workers joined us.”

Agri Wes-Cape said intimidation and violence would no longer be tolerated.

Chief executive Carl Opperman said: “The people that are bussed in from the Cape Metropole is absolute foul play because unions claim that the people involved in the unrest are all farmworkers.”

He said the farmers’ union confirmed its call to farmers and farmworkers to talk to each other directly, per farm, about labour issues in order to find workable solutions.

Opperman said Agri Wes-Cape was committed to the normalisation of its rural areas and called upon the government to restore law and order.

Agri Wes-Cape said: “We are asking leaders in government to hold the so-called leaders of farmworkers, who bus people in to create ‘critical mass’ for protest action, responsible [for their actions]. The tactics of intimidation, violence and fear, which women and children are exposed to, is a clear indication of the manner in which union leaders are working.”

Talks, which started at 2pm yesterday, continued between worker representatives and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Tina Joemat-Pettersson, while the Witzenberg municipality, which Ceres falls under, was preparing a report on the incidents.