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Police shoot at farm wage protesters

Cape Town - Protesting Western Cape farmworkers were injured by rubber bullets in Robertson on Wednesday, the Mawubuye Land Rights Forum said.

The forum's Denia Jansen said the Robertson police captain had apparently agreed to allow farmworkers to peacefully protest in Nkqubela in the morning, with more than 800 workers taking part.

Police fire rubber bullets while protesters throw stones at them. File photo: Henk Kruger/Cape Argus. Credit: CAPE ARGUS

“Shortly into the protest, other police officers entered the road with guns and opened fire 1/8with rubber bullets 3/8 on the protesters, forcing them back into their communities,” she said.

Captain Marshall Klaasten, Robertson's station commander, denied this version of events, saying no permission was ever given.

He said protesters blocked a busy traffic circle in town and he asked them to move so that cars could pass through.

The group refused and he had a discussion with his peers, eventually returning to tell them they could not protest.

“The negotiations lasted from 6.20am to 10.05am. They agreed to walk back to the township. When they entered, they started throwing stones at police from their houses. A lot of public were around,” Klaasten said.

He said rubber bullets were fired in retaliation to protect civilians.

Jansen said the forum had phoned the Human Rights Commission to “look into the matter”.

She said workers had agreed to issue letters to the 32 farmers in the area, asking for negotiations around their daily wage demand of R150.

Farmworkers went on strike last year to demand their daily wage be increased from R69 to R150, and that a coherent land reform programme be implemented.

The strike was suspended in December, but resumed on Wednesday last week in various towns in the province.

According to the Congress of SA Trade Unions, a wage deal of R105 a day was brokered with a “significant amount” of farmers in Clanwilliam on Tuesday.

He said this was a model agreement that could be used in other towns to possibly end the strike, which had been violent at times.

The labour department is hosting an extra set of public hearings this week to garner opinions of directly affected workers, amid a review of the sector's minimum wage.

Labour standards director Titus Mtsweni said the process of writing up a report on the outcome of last year's public hearings was already underway.

Hearings would take place in De Doorns, Robertson, Oudtshoorn and Vredendal.

Principal provincial traffic inspector Jacques Mostert said the N1 remained closed at De Doorns, the epicentre of protest action.

He said motorists would have to take the Orchards offramp to get to De Doorns.

On Wednesday morning, there were reports of stones being thrown at cars by protesters in Wolseley.

Mostert said no casualties were reported.

Western Cape police spokesman Frederick van Wyk said there were sporadic reported incidents involving striking workers in some areas on Wednesday.

“Members are deployed in all these affected areas to ensure the safety of all. The police and other law enforcement agencies will continue to monitor the situation and act where the situation requires it.

Bronagh Casey, spokeswoman for education MEC Donald Grant, said schools and their transport schemes were operating as usual in the Cape Winelands district.

“All schools have high attendance, except for one in De Doorns, which is just over 50 percent capacity. This school is operating as per normal though,” she said. - Sapa

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