121204. Cape Town. A small group of people protest in the Stofland informal settlement outside De Doorns. People are moving towards a sportsfield where Cosatu's Tony Ehrenreich and Mario Wanzo is supposed to talk to them. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Cape Town - Strikers in Robertson and Ashton clashed with police on Tuesday morning and were shot at with rubber bullets, but most Boland towns were quiet on Tuesday as the farmworkers’ stayaway appeared to have had limited support.

In and around Ceres, community sources estimated that the majority of the workforce had gone to work.

The stayaway seems to have been better supported around Ashton and Robertson, where strikers clashed with police early this morning.

“We are assisting people to get to hospital so that injuries sustained due to rubber bullets can be treated,” said Merchia Adams of Mawubuye Land Rights, an NGO which has been helping farmworkers in Ashton.

“We have also received at least 27 notices of dismissal from workers who have supported the strike today [Tuesday].”

In Paarl a march by strikers to the Agri SA (which represents the majority of farmers) offices was scheduled for late morning.

Farmworkers in De Doorns heeded the stayaway call and started gathering at the local sports field for a meeting set for late morning today.

Many others returned to work. Farmworkers who spoke to the Cape Argus said that they were concerned that they would lose their pay if they supported the strike.

“It is almost Christmas, New Year is coming and the children will need new school clothes. We need our money this time of year,” said a woman who did not want to be identified.

De Doorns farmer Gerhard de Kock, the chairman of the Cape Orchard Alliance, which owns 12 farms in the valley, said labour relations on Normandy farm had improved in the wake of recent strikes.

De Kock said he had paid his workers out for the two weeks that they did not work due to the strike last month.

“But from now on I will be working on a no work, no pay basis,” he said.

De Kock, who lost 6ha of vineyards at the hands of arsonists on November 5, said he remained an “optimist”.

“All change is painful, but to resist change can be more painful. I have tried to see the unrest as an opportunity for better relations rather than a tragedy,” he said.

De Kock maintains his workers were intimidated into staying away and that “political elements” trying to destabilise the province were behind the “civil unrest”.

He said he was not intimidated by reports that the “unrest” was due to start again today. He trusted police and security firms would prevent his workers from being intimidated into joining the stayaway.

Another farmer, Jacques de Kock, said he had given his staff the day off work today because he wanted to protect them from the threat of intimidation.

On Monday Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies told workers that “it was (their) choice” whether or not to support the strike.

This was at odds with some stakeholders in the community, including local ANC councillors and Cosatu, who actively encouraged workers to strike.

Those who did return were not subject to violence while they were travelling to work.

By mid-morning there had been no reports of unrest in De Doorns.

Strikes in the region a month ago saw the looting of shops, arson and vandalism of private property.

The Cape Argus interviewed a group of Sotho men and women in De Doorns who said they would not becoming involved in mobilising workers.

Many said they had been dismissed since workers in De Doorns returned to work two weeks ago. In the past, farmers have tried to blame “illegal Sotho immigrants” for the unrest.

The group said documentation issues were being used as an excuse to scapegoat them unfairly. Many said they supported the strike peacefully, but were now being lumped in with a “bunch of troublemakers”.

They allege police have been going to Lobisi informal settlement to check people’s papers.

Immigrants rights NGO Passop has been petitioning Naledi Pandor, the minister of home affairs, to grant a three-month moratorium on the arrest and deportation of undocumented workers.

On Monday, Davies supported a call for leniency from authorities on the issue of documentation.

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Cape Argus