and Lauren Isaacs
AS protests spread to 14 areas yesterday, striking farmworkers in De Doorns rejected a call from Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to return to work and accept their employers’ offer of R80 a day.
Cosatu also rejected the call.
Workers went on strike last week for better working and living conditions and a minimum wage of R150 a day instead of the current R69-R75.
Premier Helen Zille last night called on President Jacob Zuma to have Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant intervene in the dispute by setting a new minimum wage for agriculture.
“The consequences of this crisis will be very severe, not only for the Western Cape but for South Africa as a whole. It will very seriously impact on our food export and the hundreds of thousands of people who are dependent on it. It will also have a profound impact on the fundamental issue of food security in South Africa,” Zille wrote to Zuma yesterday.
Zille said Oliphant had in March established the minimum of R347.10 per week and could diffuse the conflict by calling stakeholders together to negotiate a new minimum wage.
“We also call on you to require Cosatu to enter these discussions in good faith and to end incitement and intimidation. It is nothing short of a disgrace that a formal Cosatu statement announced ‘Marikana has come to the farms’.
“Minister Marius Fransman’s role could only be for the purpose of political aggravation of a volatile situation, and it certainly has had an impact,” Zille wrote, referring to the ANC Western Cape leader and deputy minister of international relations.
Workers in the Hex River Valley have been on strike for 10 days. Farm-owners have refused to budge from their only pay offer of R80 a day.
“I urge you to go back to work and demand that your farmers pay you R80 a day. This is the latest offer that was put on the table. I will speak with President Jacob Zuma about a national wage increase and if he says he will consider it, we will give him and the government two weeks to come up with a response,” Joemat-Pettersson told a crowd of about 2 000 people at the Stofland sports field.
Workers were visibly disappointed, one shouting: “What is my family going to eat?” while others walked away during Joemat-Pettersson’s address.
She urged workers not to engage in violence and not to damage property.
Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said the workers were unhappy with the R80 offer.
“We will go back to the negotiation table and fight for more. With government showing great interest in the farmworkers, I hope that we will resolve this problem soon,” Ehrenreich said.
Kwanele Tsitsa, 28, who has worked at the Bietjie grape farm in De Doorns for 10 years, said the long wait for Joemat-Pettersson’s visit was “a waste of time.
“This R80 is just a slap in our faces. We will sink in poverty,” Tsitsa said.
Earlier in the day the crowd marched to several farms in the
De Doorns area.
Workers in Ceres, Robertson, Prince Alfred Hamlet and Somerset West yesterday joined the strike. Fourteen farming areas in the province had been affected by the unrest, police spokesman Andre Traut said. He added that a fruit store and two forklifts were set alight in Ceres.
Traut said a police officer was in a stable condition at a Ceres hospital after being hit on the head with a stone.
“SAPS members will remain deployed in affected areas.
“During incidents of violence public roads are closed to protect the public.
“However, as soon as circumstances permit, roads are reopened to prevent traffic-related disruptions,” Traut said.
Protest action yesterday resulted in the closure of three clinics in De Doorns, Ceres and Robertson.
Several court cases in Robertson, Ashton and Swellendam had to be postponed, said Western Cape Justice Department head Hishaam Mohamed.
In Robertson about 300 people occupied a traffic circle on the R60, burning tyres, tree branches and blockading the road with rocks.
Most were farmworkers from the Ngqobela township. There was a heavy police presence. Vehicles, including police vehicles, were turned back by the group.
Resident Sakhiwo Ngcongolo, who was not part of the strike, said a group of strikers had gathered at the circle from 4am. After hearing that some had gone to work, the group forced them to stay away, he said.
Farmworker Thobeka Pikini said workers wanted better working conditions in addition to higher pay. Employers did not provide toilets and running water for seasonal workers, who toiled for up to nine hours a day, Pikini said.
She is employed as a seasonal worker at Eilandia and earns R80 a day.
“We saw what is happening in De Doorns. The pain they are feeling is what we also feel,” she said.
Agri Wes-Cape spokeswoman Porchia Adams said a few cases of intimidation had been reported yesterday. She said some of those at work were beaten and forced into joining the protests by “unruly vigilantes”.
“Two farmworker houses were looted and set on fire,” said Adams.
Hex River Valley farmer Anton Viljoen jr said about 600 of his employees had returned to work.
Areas affected include: De Doorns, Ceres, Prince Alfred Hamlet, Worcester, Somerset West, Robertson, Saron, Moorreesburg, Paarl, Malmesbury, Citrusdal, Ashton, Bonnievale, and Riebeeck West.