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Cape Town - Owners of a chicken farm in the Fisantekraal area outside Cape Town suspect a fire at one of their broiler houses was a result of arson.

A security guard was burnt and 10 000 chickens killed in the fire which broke out early on Thursday at Astral Foods.

The company expects that many of the 8 000 chickens which survived the blaze would die later from smoke inhalation. Damage to the property is estimated at R2 million, said Theo Delport, managing director of Astral’s poultry division.

“There are 10 such broiler houses on that farm. We are incredibly lucky that the fire did not spread,” he added.

Just over half of the company’s Western Cape 1 000 workers have been striking since November 21.

A night watchman, who was tending to the broiler house at the time of the fire, tried to extinguish the blaze, but was trapped in the building. The man managed to escape by breaking a hole in the wall. He was treated in hospital.

In December the Cape Argus reported that striking farmworkers of Astral Food’s poultry division allegedly set alight a stack of straw outside a Fisantekraal facility.

“We have been subjected to a lot of violence and intimidation since the start of the strike. Strikers have blocked entrances to our facilities and attacked our cars at times. It is, however, understood that it is a small minority of strikers that have resorted to these methods,” said Delport at the time.

On Thursday, Delport said that a criminal element had used the strike to try to bring the company to its knees.

The Food Allied Workers Union (Fawu), which has has negotiated with Astral Food on wages, has previously condemned the use of violence.

Talks between Astral Food and Fawu stalled when the union offices closed over the holiday period.

Mlungiseleli Ndongeni, Fawu provincial secretary, could not be reached for comment and Delport said he did not know when negotiations would resume.

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Cape Argus