De Doorns - Western Cape Premier Helen Zille had to be escorted by police from a sports field in De Doorns on Thursday after being pelted with stones by striking farmworkers and taken to safety in a Nyala.
Stones were hurled at her by a hostile crowd of about 2 000 people who chanted expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s name as Zille made her address to a gathering at the Stofland sports field.
She was not hurt.
A few hours later, Western Cape ANC chairman Marius Fransman received a warm and welcoming reception from the same crowd.
Zille had gone to the area, accompanied by Agriculture and Rural Development MEC Gerrit van Rensburg, to get first-hand information about the strike which has brought the De Doorns farming community to a halt for four days, her spokesman, Zak Mbhele, said.
Zille said she had spoken to people in the community about their grievances and had walked over a bridge on the N1 to speak to the crowd on the sports field.
She said a section in the crowd started chanting Malema’s name and intimidated others so they wouldn’t speak to her. “There was so much noise and mayhem that I decided to leave. It was very bad,” Zille said.
She said meetings with farmers and the police had been successful and it was hoped there would be an end to the violence.
The strike, over low pay and poor working conditions, also forced the closure of part of the N1 between De Doorns and Touws River for the fourth day on Thursday.
On Thursday, the road was still closed with stones, litter and burning tyres used as barricades. Police maintained a presence in the area.
Resident Phumzile Langathi said Zille had visited a few homes in the area before walking to the sports field. He said when Zille walked past him he had warned her not to politicise the situation.
“I told her that people were not here because of the DA or the ANC but they are here because of issues with farm owners. They want answers about what is happening,” Langathi said.
“They didn’t give her a chance, they started shouting Malema’s name and threw stones at her.”
Zille was escorted out of Stofland in an armed police personnel carrier to the town’s centre, where she met about 60 farmworkers.
Van Rensburg’s spokesman, Wouter Kriel, said they had been in meetings with police and farm owners and had also gone to the sports field where farmworkers had gathered.
“We would have loved to stay there [sports field] a bit longer but it got a bit rowdy so we had to leave,” Kriel said.
Addressing the same strikers later, Fransman said Zille had been “chased out of the area because she displayed poor leadership”.
“She had time to go to Nkandla while things were rotting here in the Western Cape,” Fransman said.
He told the strikers that if farmers did not give in to their demands for a living wage and decent working and living conditions, the ANC would arrange a march to the Provincial Legislature, and extended an invitation to them to join it.
Workers earn between about R69 and R75 a day.
Provincial Cosatu chairman Dan Melaphi also addressed the farmworkers, and said later that they had told him they hadn’t wanted to speak to Zille because they had felt the provincial government had been siding with the farmers.
“Her MEC [Van Rensburg], who takes orders from [Zille], has been siding with the farmers the whole week. People have read the things he has told the media and they don’t want anything to do with them. Zille’s intervention is too late. As premier of the Western Cape she should have been here earlier in the week,” Melaphi said.
Workers would not accept anything less than R150 a day, Melaphi said, double the going rate. The association had offered R80 but had withdrawn it when workers rejected it and talks collapsed. He said negotiations with the Hex Valley Table Grape Association, representing some of the farmers, would resume on Friday.