Patchy support for farmworker strike

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Some 500 farmworkers gathered near the town centre of Grabouw where police stopped them. Picture: Thomas Holder

Strike action in the Western Cape's agricultural sector received sporadic support on Wednesday.

Grabouw, Wolseley and Barrydale were the only areas where strikers disrupted transport routes, sources on the ground reported.

Despite threats this week that the N1 would be blocked, the strike in De Doorns was a peaceful stayaway from work early today.

“There is a heavy police presence from Paarl and other towns. People are wary of being arrested if they try to block the road,” said farmworker Magrieta Prins.

Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut said 13 people in the Ashton area had been arrested on charges of intimidation related to the farmworkers strike.

Seven people in Tulbagh had been arrested on the same charges.

Most seasonal and permanent workers were at work in Ceres and the Koue Bokkeveld area, it was reported.

In Grabouw, strikers briefly blockaded the N2, forcing motorists to detour through the town.

A burning tyre barricade was also erected on a road into the town.

Police on the scene said the obstructions were soon removed.

In the suburb of Pineview, several hundred people gathered at a bus depot, but without incidents.

The protest appeared to fizzle out when it started raining at around 10am.

In Barrydale, police and strikers clashed as the road into Smitsville township was blockaded with burning tyres.

One person was arrested for public violence, said Henry Michaels, an activist of the Mawubuye Land Rights Movement.

By mid-morning the road was still blocked and Michaels said that strikers intended to move onto the R62 through Barrydale by this afternoon.

“Our rallying call for today is 'no one in and no one out'. We do not want the farmers to be able to enter the township to pick up scab labourers. This strike will continue until there is an acceptable offer for a living wage. We want the farmers to come to us directly and to address this issue. They must not hide behind police,” said Michaels.

A similar situation unfolded in Wolseley where strikers turned away trucks and buses to stop non-striking farmworkers from going to work.

A road into a nearby township had also been blocked.

Mercia Andrews, another member of the Mawubuye Land Rights Movement, said permanent workers went to work in the Ashton/Robertson area, while seasonal workers stayed away.

Numerous seasonal workers were returning to work by mid-morning, she said.

Meanwhile, disagreements between leaders and De Doorns members of the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) have been resolved during a meeting between members and Sandile Keni, a Fawu representative from Robertson.

De Doorns members who intended to defy Fawu and Cosatu's call to strike in protest against the unions' lack of consultation with farmworkers in the Hex Valley agreed to support the strike.

Keni agreed that Fawu shop stewards from De Doorns would be present at negotiations with the Department of Labour and Agri Wes-Cape in Cape Town.

Cape Argus


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