Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, flanked by Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich, addresses strikers in De Doorns. Picture: Jerome Abed

Cape Town - Ethnic tensions could flare in De Doorns as farmworkers return to work this week, according to some organisations.

Community representatives, the refugee rights NGO People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (Passop), and Cosatu Western Cape have accused some farmers of exploiting the ethnic divisions of the workforce in the Boland town.

After two weeks of striking for higher wages, workers in De Doorns returned to their employers pending the outcome of a revision of the national minimum wage (expected by December 4).

Some farmers were reporting undocumented workers to police, said Bonisile Vyver, a South African farmworker and member of the De Doorns Farm Worker Interests Committee.

Passop and Cosatu have called on Minister of Home Affairs Naledi Pandor to grant three months of amnesty to undocumented workers in the area in an attempt to diffuse the tensions.

Passop’s Braam Hanekom believes that “serious bloodshed” is on the horizon should Pandor fail to heed the call.

In November 2009, thousands of Zimbabweans were displaced from their homes in De Doorns in the wake of xenophobic attacks.

“Since then a lot of work has been done to reconcile these communities. Tensions between Zimbabweans, Sotho and South Africans were at an all-time low when the mass strike began,” said Hanekom.

Vyver said he anticipated “fights” between strikers returning to the workplace and those who have been dismissed.

Basotho men, whether they were immigrants or South African, had been told by some farmers to pack their bags, said Vyver.

Speaking to the Cape Argus last week, Gerhard de Kock, a prominent table grape farmer in the Hex River Valley, said it was undocumented (Basotho) immigrants who were being used as pawns by the ANC to destabilise the province through strike action. He described them as “anarchists with nothing to lose”.

But Vyver said the Sotho community felt that it was being unfairly scapegoated.

“They are very upset. Many of them were strong contributors to our struggle and now, as we are going to work, they have nothing to show for it. They are sitting at home and the police are knocking on their doors,” he said.

Vyver said a number of his co-committee members and undocumented Zimbabweans were also dismissed.

Cosatu and Passop also took a swipe at Western Cape Premier Helen Zille for a tweet which blamed Basotho-Zimbabwean tensions for “sparking” the strike at De Doorns.

In response, Zille’s spokesman, Zak Mbhele, said: “This is a typical example of Cosatu’s ignorance and disingenuous attempts to distort issues deliberately... It is surprising that an otherwise credible civil society organisation like Passop would associate themselves with opportunistic grandstanders like Cosatu…

“Passop should direct their antagonism to the national government which holds the key powers to solve the various aspects of the unrest that played out over the last two weeks.”

Lunga Ngqengelele, Pandor’s spokesman, said the minister’s office had not yet formally received a request from Passop and Cosatu.

Agri Wes Cape, which represents the majority of farmers in De Doorns, declined to respond to Cosatu and Passop’s allegations.

Cape Argus