Western Cape - A second farmworker, hospitalised after violent protests in Ceres on Wednesday, has died in hospital.
The death of the 40-year-old Wakkerstroom man on Saturday morning was confirmed by police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut, who was adamant the unnamed man had not been shot by the police.
He said investigations were continuing. A source said on Saturday night however that a murder docket had been opened with the Prince Alfred Hamlet police.
Another farmworker, 28-year-old Michael Daniels, was shot dead on Wednesday when police allegedly fired at protesters in Wolseley. A total of 52 people have been injured since the start of the protest action two weeks ago, nine of whom remain in hospital.
Meanwhile, unions have moved quickly to condemn agricultural industry leaders for predicting that thousands of farmworkers stood to lose their jobs if their minimum wage was hiked.
Cosatu called it “a typical employer tactic to try and intimidate workers”, while
the Farm and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) suggested it was a “knee-jerk” reaction.
Weekend Argus reported on Saturday that acting labour minister Angie Motshekga announced in Friday’s Government Gazette that the minimum wage of R69 a day would be investigated, with a view to increasing it to R80. Farmworkers are demanding a minimum of R150 a day.
Negotiations between unions, the government and farm owners are expected to start on Thursday with the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration mediating the talks.
Cosatu has asked workers to return to work for now and hold off their strike until December 4 to allow the investigation period to deliver results.
Yesterday Agri-Western Cape, the Transvaal Agricultural Union, fruit horticulture body Hortgro and economist Dawie Roodt said if farmers had to hike farmworkers’ pay, they would be forced to lay off staff.
Condemning the statements, Cosatu’s national spokesman Patrick Craven said they were then, in effect, saying workers “must accept a poverty wage and bad working conditions… or else”.
Suggesting the damage caused by the strike may have been over-rated, Craven said the farmworkers had legitimate demands, other than the wage issue. “It’s ill-treatment of farmworkers and them being evicted from the farms on which they live,” he said, calling on employers to rather assist in securing a settlement that would end the highly volatile stand-off.
Adding that just 5 percent of the country’s more than 800 000 farmworkers belonged to a union, Craven said they had a huge task to unionise the workers and so safeguard their interests. Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola agreed that rather than threatening to lay off labourers, farm owners should work with unions towards a reasonable solution. Wendy Pekeur, from the Ubuntu Rural Women and Youth Movement, said she and other organisations had warned the government and farmers for many years that if things did not change there would be uprisings, boycotts and a “farmworker revolution”. She said it was a huge contradiction that farmworkers earned the lowest wages and were the ones “feeding the nation”.
Late on Saturday the Disaster Management Centre reported that things were calm, but the N1 between De Doorns and Touws River remained closed. – Additional reporting by Warda Meyer