Farmers in De Doorns rush to try and save what they can after protesters set fire to their vineyards. Hundreds of protesting farmworkers in the De Doorns area have participated in strike-related violence after weeks of wage disputes, including the burning down of vineyards and the looting of shops. To date, the violence has claimed one life. Photo: Henk Kruger.

South African police arrested 40 people in the southern town of Swellendam on Thursday, following a protest in which nine people were injured and three cars were damaged.

Protests have swept across the Western Cape since farmworkers in the grape-growing De Doorns region went on strike on November 6 for higher wages.

While it was not known if the Swellendam violence was related to the farmworkers’ protests, they might be linked, provincial police spokesman Andre Traut said.

“There have been several sporadic incidents” in Swellendam, Citrusdal and other towns on Friday, Traut said by phone from Cape Town.

“We are still monitoring the situation,” he said.

A series of violent pay strikes that began at mines in August have spread to other industries, curbing growth and output in the local economy and contributing to two credit rating downgrades.

The strikes “have damaged the credibility of South Africa”, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said in a speech in Johannesburg on Thursday.

“It has created doubt in a certain class of investors.”

To date, strike-related violence in the Western Cape has claimed one life – that of farmworker Michael Daniels, 28, who was shot dead by police during a protest in the southern town of Wolseley on Wednesday. The killing is being investigated by the Independent Complaints Directorate.

Vineyards and houses have also been set on fire.

The farmworkers, most of whom are not unionised, are demanding a daily wage of R150, more than double the current minimum of R70, while some farmers have offered R80.

On Wednesday, the government and Cosatu said the strikers had agreed to suspend their labour action until December 4 while minimum wages were being reviewed.

“It seems to be quiet so far” on Friday, Porchia Adams, a spokeswoman for Agri Wes-Cape, a farmers’ group, said in an e-mail.

“We are still collecting information from all our regions.”

While some farmworkers had returned to work, others were adamant that their wages had to be increased before they would end their strike, said Lookington Ndongeni, the provincial secretary for the Food and Allied Workers Union.

“We can’t force them to go back,” he said by telephone from Cape Town.

“All we can do is advise [them] on what is on the table. Where there is anger, people do not want to listen, they don’t want to hear what is being said,” he added.

Agriculture makes up about 2.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product directly, and farms produce about 6.5 percent of the country’s exports, including wine, citrus fruit, maize, grapes, sugar, apples and pears, according to the government. – Tshepiso Mokhema and Mike Cohen from Bloomberg