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Cape Town - Five Ceres Fruit Growers (CFG) employees were arrested this week for public violence and arson during a continuous strike.

On Thursday, police arrested two people after a warehouse was destroyed in a fire when almost 200 workers protested in front of the company.

Workers toyi-toyied and sang freedom songs.

Ceres police station Commander Salmon Williams said officers arrested two people after assessing CCTV footage.

“We’ve identified people who set the factory alight. We will arrest four others who were involved.”

On Wednesday, the police arrested three people on charges of public violence.

CFG employees have been on strike since last week. They are demanding 12.5 percent in wage increases and a share in company profits.

CFG is one of South Africa’s largest apple and pear packing and storage facilities.

Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) provincial organiser Sandile Keni said CFG was not willing to negotiate. He said members would lead a mass march on Tuesday to hand over a memorandum to the company.

“These boers do not want to negotiate. We will have a huge march of more than 5 000 members on Tuesday. We will not rest until they stop exploiting workers. We only want 12.5 percent increase and a share of profits out of what they make,” he said.

Ruth Yisa, 67, a former CFG employee, said she lost two grandchildren due to cold conditions people work in. “That yard is a fridge. It’s a mortuary on its own. Our children are exploited here. They really deserve the increase.”

Miriam David, who has been working for CFG for 25 years, said she earned R800 a week and takes home only R300 after deductions. She said it was a struggle to feed her two children and four grandchildren.

“We sacrifice a lot for these people. We even work on holidays and weekends. Why can they not sacrifice some of their profits? That’s all we ask,” she said.

Agnes Fonya echoed her colleague, saying: “After medical aid, union fees and funeral-policy deductions, I take home R400 a week. Imagine a single parent feeding and clothing three children and three grandchildren. We are fed up with CFG. They must give us a share out of millions we make for them. The 12.5 percent increase is nothing to them.”

Carl Opperman, from Agri Wes-Cape, said the loss of the warehouse would have an enormous impact on the local economy. “Reinvestment in the rebuilding of that structure will require a substantial amount. There will be low profits that will result in job losses. Our country needs economic growth to produce much needed jobs,” he said.

The Western Cape Economic Opportunities Strategist Tammy Evans said officials were concerned about the strike at CFG.

“The value of agricultural production in the Ceres and Witzenberg Municipal area amounts to approximately R1.353 million in gross value added a year. Produce from this region represents 7.93 percent of the total value added of the agricultural sector within the Western Cape.

“Ceres Fruit Growers is a large producer in the area. There are concerns that if the strike action continues, it may affect perishable products from getting to market.”

CFG did not respond to requests for comment.

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Cape Times