Cape Town - Nosey Pieterse, one of the main leaders of tens of thousands of farmworkers on strike in the Western Cape, wears many hats – the most surprising of which is that he is a farm owner.
President of the Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry (Bawsi), and of Bawsi Agricultural Workers Union of SA (Bawusa), Pieterse has been at the forefront of mobilising farmworkers to challenge their bosses over their wages.
Workers are demanding R150 a day, rejecting the daily minimum wage of R69 set by the government.
Three people have died and nearly 200 others arrested during protests.
Pieterse owns a mixed-use farm of 18 hectares in Hopefield, near Saldanha, and has pigs, sheep and geese. He lives in a gabled manor house, with a swimming pool.
A visit to the farm this week also found a lone cow, and small fields of pumpkins and mealies in front of the workers’ homes.
Two workers claimed they earned more than R150 a day, adding that they were “well looked after” on the farm.
However, Pieterse was quoted in another report yesterday as saying he paid his workers R120 a day.
The workers said they were the only two working on Pieterse’s farm, and could easily care for all the crops and animals.
Approached later by Weekend Argus, Pieterse said the workers were his cousin and one of his sons. His cousin had “personal problems”, apparently involving drug abuse.
He described the farm as a “family business”, adding that he also had plans to launch a drug rehabilitation centre.
To the critics, Pieterse leads a double life – on one hand he’s the farm owner, and on the other the representative of the workers.
The Workers International Vanguard Party has lashed out at Pieterse, calling him a “capitalist” and a “farm industry boss who pretends to represent farmworkers”.
When he wears the Bawsi hat, he represents black farm owners.
His critics add that Pieterse is also a shareholder of leading SA liquor producer, KWV.
According to a deed search conducted by Weekend Argus, Pieterse is listed as a director of no fewer than 15 companies, including a rooibos tea co-operative, a tracksuit and clothing design company, an operational management company, a logistics company, and a trading and investment company.
But in Pieterse’s eyes there’s no conflict of interest.
He said he continues forming new companies because more black people should become entrepreneurs.
“People always say black people should be more involved in the economy. But then when you are, you are being criticised. Yes, I am a director of companies. But they’re not commercial. They work towards the upliftment of key emerging farmers,” he told Weekend Argus.
He said he’s a complex person, and knows that “some people find it difficult to understand me”.
Describing himself as “an educated revolutionary”, Pieterse says he has a diploma in theology and an honours degree in participatory management in the workplace from the University of the Western Cape.
He has worked in various managerial positions, including as human resources manager at Dairy Maid, Dairy Belle and KWV.
He said he felt some “conflict of interest” while working at KWV because he was always busy helping farmworkers fight eviction or unfair dismissals, or helping them battle against alcoholism and foetal alcohol syndrome.
“I was human resources manager and industrial relations specialist at KWV. But I left in 1997 to join Bawsi. KWV has 4 500 shareholders. And I was in the news all the time for fighting evictions. That was in conflict with my job. I was left with a choice: KWV or Bawsi. So I decided to stick to Bawsi.”
Pieterse says he’s also a reborn Christian and a pastor at the West Coast Lutheran Church. He is currently “doing only two things – church and strike”, he says.
“I had no rest over Christmas and New Year because I had to help some parishioners – some were on their death beds.”
He’s also a committed family man. He and wife Denise have three sons, aged 33, 29 and 18, who are all Manchester United supporters while he and Denise are Liverpool fans.
“Myself and my wife are crazy about sport. For the next month, she will be glued to the television watching Afcon games,” he said.
So why does he think he has secured the respect of so many farmworkers when other leaders have failed?
“I think it’s because I’m sincere. I have been working with workers’ issues all my life, and they respect me for helping them fight evictions.”
He had also been involved in the struggle “to liberate the people from apartheid”.
“I was arrested for subversion and at other times detained without charge. I’m from Ravensmead, but I had to go into hiding in Gugulethu because I was considered a danger to the state,” Pieterse says.
And for those who insist he’s a capitalist boss, he says: “Their objective is to demonise me and make the workers doubt me. There’s a capitalist racist campaign against me.”