De Doorns, Western Cape - Striking De Doorns farmworkers sat in the sun for hours as various parties negotiated their lot behind closed doors in the town’s municipal buildings on Tuesday.
On Monday, 50 hectares of vineyards outside the Boland town were burnt by strikers. Shops were looted and the N1 was closed as thousands of strikers turned violent.
The damage to the vineyards alone has been estimated at R70 million, according to calculations made by farmers on the scene.
Workers are demanding a wage of R150 a day; many of them claim they are currently receiving the industry minimum of R63 a day.
The N1 between Touws River and Worcester was again closed on Tuesday. Just after dawn, a farmer identified a group of protesters and opened fire.
“This morning a 43-year-old farm owner was arrested for firing live rounds at protesters. SAPS is here to maintain law and order, and will stay on the scene for as long as it takes,” said police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut.
No one was injured in the shooting and the man was charged with attempted murder. He was remanded in custody on Tuesday.
Among those around the negotiating table on Tuesday were three MECs: Dan Plato (community safety), Gerrit van Rensburg (agriculture and rural affairs) and Ivan Meyer (cultural affairs and sport).
“We believe this to be politically motivated action, and not a labour protest,” said Van Rensburg.
“There are very good relations between farmers and farm workers in the area.”
Parties representing workers’ interests expressed frustration at Van Rensburg’s denial that there were genuine grievances and general wage-related discord between employers and workers. Cosatu and the ANC in the Western Cape issued press statements denouncing Van Rensburg’s stance.
By mid-afternoon, representatives of farmers arrived at the negotiations and entered the building to jeers from protesters.
Speaking to the Cape Argus, many workers told of the hardships of living on R350 or less a week.
They insisted on listing the names of farmers who they accused of maltreatment and paying “unfair” wages.
They threatened to strike indefinitely, if their demands were not met.
In a break between negotiations, Braam Hanekom, of Cape Town NGO Passop, took a swipe at farmers who have allegedly threatened workers with dismissal if they joined unions.
“If workers aren’t unionised, there is no one to represent them, no one to direct a strike and no one to call to task when protests turn violent and destructive as they did on Tuesday,” Hanekom said.
Agri Western Cape’s Portia Adams estimated that 50 hectares of grapes were torched in the De Doorns protest.
She said different groups in the protesting crowd were demanding different things: “Some are calling for more wages, some want living wages and other just want work, there is no collective thing that they want. If they could come out and say what they want, then we could talk.”
Adams said some of the protesters “have huge political influences amongst them and the fact that there is such a huge political influence makes it that much harder to come to a solution”.
Meanwhile, Western Cape police have sent reinforcements to help contain the situation.
The six demonstrators who were arrested for public violence on Monday are due to appear in the Worcester magistrates court on Wednesday.