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Cape Town - A morning of violent clashes with protesters in Wolseley climaxed with police opening fire on a group of strikers on Wednesday.
Twenty-eight-year old Michael Daniels was shot in the back as he turned to flee an approaching police line.
Late on Wednesday, thousands of empty wooden crates stacked 10m high were burning in the town as protesters vented their fury.
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut confirmed Daniel’s death, but refused to comment on whether live rounds were used.
According to witnesses, two officers had apparently fired warning shots into the ground with their service pistols.
The Cape Argus spoke to Edwin van Wyk, who was standing next to Daniels when he was shot.
“He was immediately unconscious. I called him twice and then lifted his shirt to see where the blood was coming from.
He was not bleeding too much but he was limp and foaming at the mouth. He was dead,” Van Wyk said.
Van Wyk begged police to call an ambulance and to attend to Daniels.
Police negotiated with protesters to stop throwing rocks and drove a police van to where Daniels lay.
Van Wyk lifted his body into the van and four other people with injuries were also helped.
One of the injured men, Jonathan Malgas, said they had to look at Daniels’ body in the van.
“It was awful. He was ice-cold. His face wasn’t covered. We had to sit there and look at him,” he said.
Jo-Anne Otto, principle communication officer for Cape Winelands Health, could not confirm how Daniels died, saying that he was dead on arrival.
Daniels’ mother, Magdalena Daniels, who lives in Pine Valley, said her son had been on his way to work on Wednesday morning when the protests in Wolseley started.
Daniels was a worker on a fruit farm and the only breadwinner in the household, she said. He had earned R350 a week.
Outside the police station, a crowd gathered, baying for the blood of the officers who had opened fire.
Community Safety MEC Dan Plato met community leaders and later addressed the crowd.
Plato expressed his condolences to the family and said that the Independent Police Investigations Directorate (Ipid) would take over the investigation.
Skirmishes between police and protesters went on throughout the day.
In Ceres, farmers blocked the only entrance into the town from Cape Town with piles of rubble, stones and sand on Wednesday.
Kanonkop farmer Hennie du Preez, one of about 10 involved in blocking the R46 about 25km outside of Ceres, said they wanted to protect Breede Valley farms from protesters.
Du Preez said the farmers blocked to road to prevent any problems near their farms.
Grape harvesters in the Hex River Valley have been protesting for over a week about their wages, demanding R150 a day.
Most earn between R69 and R75 a day, with R80 being the highest and only offer from farmers so far.
Agri SA labour policy commission chairman Anton Rabe said a minimum wage of R70 a day would look bad to the uninformed, but there were other aspects that affected this figure.
Many farmers were supplying workers with transport, accommodation and training.
He said close to 40 percent provided after-school services and 23 percent provided medical facilities on site.
The government on Wednesday activated the Provincial Disaster Management Centre to deal with the wide-scale protests in the agricultural sector. The centre, at Tygerberg Hospital, co-ordinates emergency services across the province in times of crisis.
On Wednesday, Premier Helen Zille said the centre received reports in real time where fires were burning and roads were closed, which guided them on how best to deploy resources.
Emergency services are stretched to capacity and Zille has called on President Jacob Zuma to send in the army to protect lives and property.
Jacky Pandaran, director of operations at the centre, said 12 regions had been affected across the province.
Shortly before 7pm on Wednesday night, provincial police spokesman Traut said : “Things seem to be calming down as we approach sunset. But we are still monitoring a number of places very closely, including Wolseley, Ceres and Robertson, which are of concern.”
At the time of going to press last night, no active protest actions were reported by police.
Traut said various incidents that took place on Wednesday were being investigated, including the attack on the police vehicle at Wolseley.
He said this was being investigated “at a high level”, but he was not authorised to comment further on the matter.
“We cannot allow our members to come under attack,” Traut said.