Grabouw - 130110 - Protesters dump poles, timber and logs on to a burning barricade at the Grabouw suburb of Pine View North - Photo: Murray Williams

Western Cape - A prominent farm strike leader has damned “criminal elements” for joining the protests and looting stores, as the violence continued on Thursday.

Grabouw witnessed scenes of violence on Thursday as groups of men launched a long series of sniping raids on public roads.

But John Michaels, of the Grabouw Elgin Civic Organisation, blamed this squarely on “criminal elements” who had joined the protesters. He said he “distanced” the protesters from these looters and said the police should act against them.

Michaels also said police had acted “provocatively” against the legitimate industrial action, by ordering “peaceful” demonstrations to break up.

From as early as 6am, police sought to disperse groups which arrived on the Old Cape Road in the Pineview suburb.

After numerous interviews, the Cape Argus established that amid these groups were not only striking workers, but large numbers of unemployed men who have worked as seasonal workers on occasion and others who appeared to be barely out of school.

Together, the men often responded to the police’s demands to disperse by hurling rocks at the police, and open battles then developed.

Dodging the flying rocks, policemen fired rubber bullets and threw “thunder-flash” canisters to drive the rock-throwers back.

Groups of men made numerous attempts to march down to the main road through Grabouw, but were stopped by police.

The next headache for authorities were two fires lit on MTO forestry land, in fynbos on a rocky koppie to the west of the town.

A spotter plane soon arrived, followed by a helicopter armed with a “Bambie bucket”, and a crop-sprayer, which also dumped water on the rocky slopes in a daring display of flying.

As sunset neared, after almost 12 hours of strife, a pall of smoke hung over the town of Grabouw – as a dozen street fires still belched choking black smoke from burning tyres and rubbish into the evening sky.

Cape Argus