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Cape Town - Some Western Cape farmers are taking no chances when the strike over wages resumes on Tuesday.
Private security, a helicopter, 10 bakkies and 45 guards have been stationed at Hexkoel, one of the largest cold stores in the Hex River Valley, to ensure the safety of farmers, workers and property. A dog unit is on standby to track down suspected arsonists.
But other farmers in De Doorns said they are not concerned.
Gerhard de Kock, chairman of the Cape Orchard Alliance which owns 12 farms in the valley, said labour relations on Normandy farm had improved in the wake of recent strikes.
De Kock, who lost 6ha of vineyards at the hands of arsonists on November 5, said that he remained an “optimist”.
“All change is painful, but to resist change can be more painful. I have tried to see the unrest as an opportunity for better relations rather than a tragedy,” he said.
De Kock added that he had not dismissed anyone and wages on his farm were raised to a minimum of R95 a day since workers returned to the vineyards two weeks ago. He also paid his workers for days lost due to the strike, saying productivity in the last two weeks had shot up by 40 percent.
De Kock maintains his workers were intimidated into staying away and that “political elements” trying to destabilise the province were behind the “civil unrest”. He said he was not intimidated by reports that the “unrest” was due to start again on Tuesday. He trusted police and security firms would prevent his workers from being intimidated into joining the stayaway.
Last week provincial police commissioner Arno Lamoer reassured farmers that police were well resourced to deal with any violence, and that public order police units would be on standby throughout the province.
De Kock’s sentiments were echoed by farmer Jacques Beukes.
“The fact of the matter is that we simply cannot afford an amount of R150 a day. As much as we would love to pay our workers this, our business will not survive. But our workers know that we will help them when they need us in case of illness and special circumstances,” said Beukes, of Modderdrift export grape farm.
His family had been in the valley for more than a century. “In that time we have employed thousands of people and helped many kids to get through school. You don’t run a business like ours without good faith and support from the people who work for you.”
Modderdrift employs about 600 people. Beukes said he paid well above minimum wage.
“Our family’s relationship with workers has always been a good and a compassionate one, but I can say that communication has improved immensely since the strike was suspended,” Beukes said, adding that top management on the farm were now more committed to engage directly with the workforce.
Jan Olyn, a worker on Beukes’ farm, said he was happy to go to work on Tuesday and trusted the measures in place to protect him.
Beukes, a victim of vandalism and arson in November, said the experience had shaken the faith of some farmers.
“We would love to be here for another 100 years. But if things carry on in the same vein that they did a few weeks ago, we will have to look for greener pastures,” he said, adding that he had made enquiries about maize, soya and corn farming elsewhere in Africa and in Australia.