Farmworkers strike suspended

ct Rawsonville protest 3689 - Copy (30472235) HOLDING THE LINE: Farmworkers and police officers were involved in a tense stand - off in Rawsonville yesterday. Photo: Courtney Africa

Jason Felix, Xolani

Koyana, Cobus Coetzee

and Aziz Hartley

vineyards were set alight in Rawsonville last night, shortly after Cosatu announced an agreement to suspend for a second time the farmworkers’ strike.

Western Cape farmers and the government were given a January 9 deadline to increase farmworkers’ wages from R69 a day to R150 or face another strike.

This came as the Hawks last night investigated seven armed men arrested at a roadblock outside Worcester, some in AWB uniforms, according to SABC-TV. They are from Cape Town’s northern suburbs, said police spokesman Andre Traut.

“The suspects were driving in the direction of De Doorns when their vehicle was searched. A .308 Mauser and 60 rounds of ammunition were found in the vehicle and no one could produce a valid licence for the possession thereof. The suspects, aged between 33 and 66 years, are due in court once they have been charged,” said Traut.

In Rawsonville, police shot at about 100 protesters with rubber bullets, allegedly without provocation. Four were injured and two others arrested.

Women on Farms spokeswoman Colette Solomon said: “The workers had just taken part in a peaceful march in Paarl and demonstrated their discipline.

“When they got to Rawsonville they were met by heavily armed policemen in full riot gear who shot at them for no reason.”

Later the crowd doubled to 200 and started small fires on Vredehof Vineyards, owned by farmer Piet Dippenaar. Extinguishing the flames with the help of friends, Dippenaar refused to comment.

A stand-off followed when police prevented the group from matching into the town centre.

Police gave them two minutes to disperse before firing two tear gas canisters. Protesters ran to the Geelkampies informal settlement and later regrouped on Van Riebeek Road in Rawsonville, which had to be closed to traffic.

Protesters sang and danced in the street while police kept a close watch. Protesters flung rocks at a passing vehicle and chased a farmer on to his property.

There were about 20 police

vehicles. Cosatu and farmworker leaders called off their strike in De Doorns yesterday following negotiations with Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Petterson and Agri SA. Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said: “Negotiations will deal with the demand for a R150 per day minimum wage.

“Negotiations will also include a profit-sharing scheme. This agreement means that workers will return to work and join any union of their choice.”

Unions would negotiate directly with individual farmers, he said.

“If no agreement is reached by 9 January, 2013, workers on those farms will revert to action again,” said Ehrenreich.

Joemat-Petterson’s spokesperson, Palesa Mokomele, said: “Government is not ready to talk about negotiations between labour and the farmers. Remember it is still a labour issue but it affects the agriculture industry.”

Agri SA head of labour Anton Rabe said: “We now have time to focus on the harvest and prepare for next year March and the talks about the minimum wages.”

Agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg’s spokesman, Wouter Kriel, said: “We are glad the strike is off. This is a crucial time [of] harvesting.”

Earlier in the day thousands of workers marched to Agri Wes-Cape and the Labour Department offices in Paarl while smaller groups gathered in towns across the Boland and Kouebokkeveld.

About 60 Ashton farmworkers on strike were escorted by three police vehicles as they marched along the R60 and into a minor road. In Robertson, four people were injured when police fired rubber bullets, said land rights activist Mercia Andrews of Mayibuye.

In the small farming town of Koo, 30km outside Montagu, there was a tense stand-off between police and 100 workers. Four people were arrested.

Andries Swartz, who works at the Versameling farm, said: “

They threatened to shoot us. Why? We are walking peacefully. They have arrested our comrades for nothing. This intimidation is unnecessary.”

An unprotected strike in De Doorns on November 6 spread to 15 towns. Farmworkers demanded an increase to their minimum daily wage, from R69 to R150. The action claimed two farmworkers’ lives and scores of vineyards, buildings and vehicles were destroyed.

On November 18 the strike was suspended for two weeks until yesterday after a government promise that the minimum wage would be reviewed. But a week later Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant said wages could not be reviewed until April.

Sapa reported a 17-year-old boy lodged a complaint of attempted murder at the Robertson police station after he was shot, allegedly with a rubber bullet fired by police, in the town yesterday following a farmworker protest. Traut said the matter was handed to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.


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