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PREMIER Helen Zille had to be escorted by police from a sports field in De Doorns after being pelted with stones by striking farmworkers yesterday, and was taken to safety in an Nyala.
Stones were hurled at her by a hostile crowd of about 2 000 people who chanted expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s name as Zille made her way to address a gathering at the Stofland Sports Field. Zille was not hurt.
A few hours later, ANC Western Cape chairman Marius Fransman received a different, warm and welcoming reception from the same crowd at the sports field.
Zille – accompanied by Agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg – had gone to the area to get first-hand information about the protest, her spokesman Zak Mbhele said.
The stayaway has grounded the farming community of De Doorns for four days.
Mbhele said he could not comment on the stoning incident because he had not yet spoken to Zille. She could not be reached and did not return calls last night.
The strikers, protesting about low pay and poor working conditions, forced the closure of a section of the N1 between De Doorns and Touws River for the fourth day yesterday. The road was closed with stones, litter and burning tyres. Police maintained a presence in the area.
Resident Phumzile Langathi said Zille had visited a few homes in the area before walking to the sports field. He said when Zille walked past him, he had warned her not to politicise the situation.
“I told her that people were not here because of the DA or the ANC, but because of issues with farm owners. They want answers
,” Langathi said.
“They didn’t give her a chance, they started shouting Malema’s name and threw stones at [Zille].”
Zille was escorted out of Stofland in a police armed personnel carrier to the town’s centre where she met about 60 farmworkers.
Van Rensburg’s spokesman, Wouter Kriel, said the MEC and Zille had been in meetings with police and farm owners and had gone to the sports field where farmworkers had gathered.
“We would have loved to stay (at the sports field) a bit longer, but it got a bit rowdy so we had to leave,” Kriel said.
Addressing the same strikers later, Fransman said: “Zille had been chased out of the area because she displayed poor leadership.
“She had time to go to Nkandla while things were rotting here in the Western Cape.”
Fransman told the strikers that if farmers did not give in to their demands for a living wage and decent working and living conditions, the ANC would arrange a march to the provincial legislature and extend an invitation to them to join in.
Workers earn between R69 and R75 a day.
Cosatu provincial chairman Dan Melaphi also addressed the farmworkers.
He said later that they had told him they had not wanted to speak to Zille because they had felt the provincial government had been siding with the farmers.
“Her MEC [Van Rensburg], who takes orders from [Zille], has been siding with the farmers the whole week,” Melaphi said.
“People have read the things he has told the media and they don’t want anything to do with them.
“Zille’s intervention is too late. As premier of the Western Cape she should have been here earlier in the week.”
Workers would not accept anything less than R150 a day, Melaphi said, double the going rate. The association had offered R80, but withdrew it when workers rejected it and talks collapsed.
He said negotiations with the Hex Valley Table Grape Association, representing some of the farmers, would resume today.