W Cape police release protest numbers

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farm strike jan 15 CAPE ARGUS FILE PHOTO: Strikers gather at dawn in Villiersdorp, facing off with police who refused to let them into the town centre. File photo: Thomas Holder

Cape Town - A total of 337 people were arrested during the recent Western Cape farmworkers' strike, provincial police said on Thursday.

Acting provincial police commissioner Peter Jacobs told reporters most of the arrests (224) were made this month (January).

Farmworkers went on strike in November, demanding that the minimum daily wage be increased from R69 to R150, and that a cohesive land reform programme be implemented.

The strike was recently called off on condition that Agri-SA committed to “local-level” agreements, and agreed not to victimise workers.

Jacobs said two people died in the strikes, 28 civilians were injured, and 68 police officers were hurt.

The province had been hit by 179 violent strikes and protests in the past year.

“A violent strike is where there is use of force, a tyre was burnt, where somebody was assaulted with a stick... if a case of intimidation is opened... or roads are blocked with barricades,” Jacobs said.

The police figures showed a spike in violent strikes and protests from September.

This month there were 58 violent strikes and protests.

Jacobs said police officers planned as far as possible to ensure their responses to the farmworkers' strike were adequate.

“It's important to understand what is different in this strike. It was spread over a vast area, especially the first part of November, when it was unheard of in rural areas to have such a simultaneous response, an outburst.”

He said the affected area in the Cape Winelands had a radius of at least 600 kilometres.

“While we had a number of incidents, we were able to confine it to specific areas and the level of widespread damage was reduced considerably. There was damage, yes, but it was always localised in scope.”

Damage to private property could not be estimated. Provincial police had to fork out R75 000 for damage to 25 of their vehicles.

Jacobs said deployments in the areas affected would remain until there were clear signs that the labour unrest was over. - Sapa

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