De Doorns farmworkers march

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De Doorns, Western Cape - De Doorns farmworkers held a peaceful protest march on Monday afternoon, Western Cape police said.

Workers left peacefully at the end of the march, said spokeswoman Lybey Swartz.

She said Congress of SA Trade Unions Western Cape head Tony Ehrenreich addressed them and they dispersed afterwards.

Swartz said the N1 road remained closed to traffic from Worcester up to Touws River, and an alternative route via Ceres was advised.

By 4.30pm, she had not been told whether the road had reopened.

Workers in the area have been protesting since last Monday about their working conditions and pay. At times during the protest, they have closed the road and burnt vineyards.

On Monday, police arrested 11 people, when a group of around 80, carrying sticks and pangas, intimidated farmworkers and prevented them from going to work.

“We took action,” said Colonel Andre Traut.

He would not elaborate.

Breede Valley Ward Four councillor Pat Marran said the police fired teargas and rubber bullets and entered people's houses.

Groups of people with knobkerries had gathered in the area and they told the police to leave, he said, adding that the police responded by chasing them.

The people then went and threw stones on the N1, closing the road.

Afterwards, a meeting was called with the police. Marran said he attended as a community leader.

“I convinced the police that I, as a community leader, would calm people, but that the police must withdraw, keep a distance and not provoke action, which they did,” he said.

The situation was then “calm”, he said.

He said there was a meeting on Saturday between various parties and Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. It was agreed that decisions taken at the meeting would be communicated to people in De Doorns on Monday.

However the actions on Monday had made people think the police were trying to stop them.

Cosatu in the Western Cape said farmworkers in the region would strike in solidarity with those on strike in De Doorns on Tuesday.

“Other farmworkers, seasonal workers and communities will come out on strike and take solidarity action in support of the demand for a living wage of R150 per day,” it said.

“Marikana has come to farms,” it said, referring to a lengthy strike at Lonmin platinum mine, in North West, which spread to other platinum and gold mines in the region. Police opened fire on striking Lonmin workers, killing 34 of them near the mine on August 16.

The call to action was to workers in De Doorns, Wellington, and “farm workers across the country”.

Cosatu said that on Monday morning, unions, community organisations, NGOs and farmworker committees had formed a coalition which would co-ordinate a campaign for better wages and working conditions on farms.

It would be headed by Ehrenreich.

Hex Valley Table-grape farmers' spokesman Michael Loubser said permanent workers returned to work on Monday.

However, some workers had stayed away out of fear about what would happen to them if they reported to work

“Ninety percent of the permanent workers are back,” he said.

The Workers International Vanguard Party claimed workers' low wages were “set by the ANC government, continuing old slaves wages”.

It claimed that their conditions of work included not being paid at all out of season and not being able to claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

Joemat-Pettersson was reportedly going to hold urgent meetings on Monday and Tuesday about the minimum daily wage of R69 for farmworkers. - Sapa



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