De Doorns - 121115 - De Doorns road blockaded by rubble - Photo: Thomas Holder
De Doorns - 121115 - De Doorns road blockaded by rubble - Photo: Thomas Holder
Wolseley - 121115  - farm workers protest in Wolseley - Photo: Henk Kruger
Wolseley - 121115 - farm workers protest in Wolseley - Photo: Henk Kruger

Cape Town - The province’s agriculture sector has suffered huge financial losses as a result of damage to infrastructure and crops during widespread farm protests, says Western Cape Agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg.

He urged everyone in the agricultural sector to remain calm and to support ongoing negotiations.

However, plans for a huge farmworkers strike that threatens to shut down towns in the rural areas of the Western Cape are under way.

The stay-away was set to take place on December 4, said Mario Wanza of the recently formed United Democratic Front (UDF).

“Communities will be shut down by a massive stay-away if negotiations do not bring an acceptable outcome. We are planning on mobilising people from other areas Cape Town to join the striking farmworkers,” Wanza said.

Cosatu warned that should an agreement not be reached farmworkers would resume the strike on December 4.

Van Rensburg said the future of agriculture in the province was bleak and uncertain.

“Farmers and farm workers in the Western Cape have lost their appetite for their very own industry,” he said. “Farmers are now reluctant to invest, and farm workers are doubtful about their job prospects.”

Farmworkers are demanding a pay hike of a minimum of R150 a day, most earn between R69 and R75.

“We will have to start negotiations with the actual profitability of the sector as a reference point,” said Van Rensburg. “It is therefore essential that our best economists and auditors be part of these negotiations.”

Two people have died and 54 people have been injured since the two weeks of unrest over wages.

Farmworker Bongile Ndleni, 40, was shot in Prince Alfred Hamlet on Wednesday, allegedly by men driving a bakkie. He was admitted to hospital and then discharged on Friday night but was found dead in his home on Saturday morning.

Also on Wednesday, tractor driver Michael Daniels, 28, was shot dead when police allegedly fired at protesters in Wolseley.

Sixteen towns in the province have been affected by the protests. The most hard-hit towns include De Doorns, Ceres, Prince Alfred Hamlet, Montagu, and Bonnievale. Negotiations between unions, the government and farm owners are expected to resume on Thursday.

Cosatu’s provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said more workers were expected to return to work on Monday.

Last week, acting Labour Minister Angie Motshekga launched an investigation to review the minimum wage of R69 a day for all farmworkers in South Africa.

A notice was published in the Government Gazette on Friday informing the public of the “commencement of an investigation” which would “review minimum wages in the farm worker sector in South Africa”.

Interested parties can make written representations to the Department of Labour’s Employment Standards Directorate within 15 days from Friday.

Conditions of employment of farm workers were also under review, Motshekga announced.

On Sunday, police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andrè Traut said although the violence and number of incidents had subsided, law enforcement agencies would not withdraw resources from the affected areas until it was certain the protest action had ceased.

Traut said the unrest had left considerable damage to property and infrastructure.

“We are hopeful that negotiations can be amicably and expediently resolved so that order can be restored before the holiday period is in full swing,” said Traut.

Nils Flaatten, chief executive officer of the Western Cape’s Investment and Trade Promotion Agency (Wesgro), said the widespread strike might disrupt planned events on some of the farms. “It might cause minor disruptions in travelling since some of the roads might close. Safety for tourists is not in jeopardy at the moment.” Various meetings were held in Robertson and Bonnievale on Sunday.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille tweeted: “People moving around farms trying to mobilise for an extension of the strike tomorrow - from Botrivier to Piketberg.”

The Western Cape government has set up a hotline for people to report incidents of unrest or plans to cause violence or destruction in the province.

People living in or travelling through areas these areas can call the hotline to confirm whether the unrest was continuing and to find out about safe routes. The number is 0860 142142.

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Cape Argus