Farm workers gather in De Doorns

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CAPE ARGUS

Hundreds of protesting farmworkers block the N1 highway at De Doorns. Some protesters looted shops, while one business owner in the town, seen carrying a shotgun, tried to keep protesters from looting his shop. Amid the chaos one man collapsed. File photo by Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Western Cape - Around 8 000 farm workers gathered in De Doorns on Tuesday morning following a violent protest that left vineyards in flames, a Western Cape agriculture official said.

“The situation is very tense, but police seem to be in control at the moment. They've also called for reinforcements to come and a helicopter is on its way,” said Wouter Kriel, spokesman for agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg.

He said it looked as though the group was planning to march.

Van Rensburg, community safety MEC Dan Plato and cultural affairs and sports MEC Ivan Meyer met with police, local safety authorities and the farming community at around 8am to discuss a plan of action.

Kriel said they had not made it clear what they wanted or why they were protesting.

“There is no specific leadership and no list of demands… one thing that is very important is to get dialogue going.”

Breede Valley mayor Basil Kivedo was expected to address the crowd later in the day to try and establish their needs. The provincial government was calling in an experienced negotiator to handle the situation.

The N1 highway had to be closed between Touws River and De Doorns on Monday when farm workers gathered on the road.

Over 30 hectares of vineyards were destroyed in the protest.

Western Cape police said at the time the cause of the protest was likely a wage dispute, but the agricultural department said this was incorrect.

“This is not a labour strike and (is) not organised by farm workers, even though farm workers are involved. It seems to be politically motivated,” Kriel said.

“There is a lot of intimidation going on. We have a lot of seasonal labour on the farms starting for (the) grape season. We are adamant that it is not traditional workers who are involved, but the seasonal workers.” - Sapa


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