Cape Town - Violence and lack of control have characterised the farm workers’ strike and civil unrest that swept through Boland towns. The Cape Times asked several purported leaders of the strike the following questions:
1 How many farmworkers do you represent and who are they?
2 Do you think it was correct of the ANC to call off the strike?
3 Should Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant intervene and address workers?
4 Do you still have control over the strike?
5 Can workers still get a wage of R150 a day?
Lunga Yanta is a farmworker from De Doorns and a member of the local farm worker strike organising committee. He is also a Black Agricultural Workers Union of SA (Bawusa) member.
1 We have 6 000 members in Bawusa and we signed up 200 in De Doorns this past weekend only. Our membership has grown dramatically since the strike started in November. The majority are seasonal workers.
2 No, the ANC has no say over when we can call off our strike. This was organised by us, the farmworkers, and we will decide what to do.
3 That will be the biggest mistake for the labour minister - to come to De Doorns to address us. We will chase her away. We want only President Jacob Zuma and his men to come and talk to us. He must find a solution.
4 We have full control over the strike. We instruct our members not to take part in violence, but the police must also do their job to prevent that and protect us.
5 We don’t think we can get that, but we hope for R150 a day. We are also willing to accept anything between R120 and R130 as a daily wage.
Sandile Keni is the Food and Allied Workers Union’s provincial organiser. He has been one of the people urging farmworkers to take part in the protests.
1 I cannot give you numbers at the moment because we are collecting membership forms. We have members in De Doorns, Robertson, Grabouw and Ceres.
2 The ANC did not call for the strike. This is the excitement of Marius Fransman. He has only been there once or twice and does not know what the workers are going through. This strike was not called by any individual or organisation, but farmworkers who decided to go on strike. It will be them who decide to call it off.
3 The public hearings by the department are starting (on Monday) and I believe they will be helpful. It is not up to me to speak on behalf of the department and say (Oliphant) should be here.
4 We still have control of our members. There are other elements, like criminals and thugs, who are taking advantage of the situations. The law has to take control of that. There is no leader that could condone any type of violence... but trigger-happy police are not helping the situation.
5 I believe workers can still get that amount, but let’s wait for the negotiations.
Nosey Pieterse is Bawusa general secretary. He says he was called by farmworkers - most of them non-unionised - days after first violent protests to represent them in talks with farmers.
1 I remain a leader of my people. Through my union I represent them and negotiate on their behalf.
Bawusa’s stronghold is in De Doorns and Hex River Valley. Before the strike we had 20 farms organised. Our membership has doubled to more than 1 500. Our other strongholds are Robertson, Bonnievale and Ashton.
2 It would be wrong of me to return to the workers and tell them the strike is off. I totally disagree with the ANC because workers have suffered long enough.
3 I am disappointed with the government. We have been fighting this battle and the government has been a spectator. We need their intervention.
4 Despite all the violence, we, as unions, still have control of the situation. When we call meetings the people come out in their numbers.
5 I remain confident that we will get the R150. The workers will not stop and we won’t stop bargaining.
Tony Ehrenreich is Cosatu provincial secretary and says he represents all the farmworkers who gave the federation a mandate to negotiate with farmers and the government on a minimum wage.
1 Very few farmworkers are unionised, but we have a mandate from all the workers who asked Cosatu to talk on their behalf… Nobody can contest that there is a mass uprising and that those are real issues. The question of (Cosatu having) a mandate and how many (we represent): I can’t tell you.
2 This is not a political strike or a strike called by political organisations who can call it off at will. This strike can only be called off by workers and they have said it will continue until a living wage is paid.
3 We want an urgent meeting with the labour minister so we can negotiate a settlement. That rebellion will lead to a revolution on those farms - that is why we need a settlement sooner than later.
4 The violence is a real concern and Cosatu keeps on calling on farmworkers to say no to violence. Workers are running out of patience and I will completely agree with them.
5 The R110 daily wage is something Cosatu will look at favourably as an interim measure until the minimum wage is set in March by the Economic Conditions Commission.