Cape Town. 12.12.04. Police prime a stun grenade. Picture: THOMAS HOLDER

Cape Town - The announcement by Cosatu that the province’s agricultural sector strike was called off has met with mixed reaction from farmworkers.

On Wednesday,many were split on whether they supported the decision.

Criticism of Cosatu’s lack of direct consultation with workers was key to Robertson farmworker Brendan Daniels’ decision to oppose the union’s announcement.

“We have waited a long time for the 4th of December to make our voices heard. This dispute needs to be sorted out now, before we lose momentum… Why did Cosatu negotiate on our behalves behind closed doors in Cape Town? Why did the government get involved?

“This is an issue between farmworkers and their employers. Agri SA should have come to our meetings and listened directly to the people,” he said.

Monwabisi Kondile, a worker from De Doorns, said Cosatu had played “football with the people - telling them one thing, and then changing their minds at the last second”.

Cosatu’s provincial secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, had said “fruit will rot on the trees” and that “the strike was off” in addresses within hours of one another in De Doorns on Tuesday.

Kondile said: “It will not be easy for us to organise and to negotiate with the farmers directly [as suggested by Cosatu]. This divides our people, and the farmers will be able to intimidate us.”

Another farmworker and activist, who declined to be named, said Cosatu had sold out the workers.

“This is what the farmers wanted, and now Cosatu are exposed for being on the side of farmers and the government who have been wanting to end the strike from the beginning.”

But these opinions were balanced by the large number of workers - especially in Ceres and De Doorns - who did not support the December 4 strike, going to work as usual.

For De Doorns farmworker Cornelia Mtsila this was an indication that workers in the province had lost unity of opinion on how to proceed.

She expressed frustration at Cosatu’s “exclusion of worker representatives” in the call for higher wages since the strikes began in November.

In spite of this, she said Cosatu calling off the strike reflected the sentiment of the majority of workers in De Doorns.

“Many people in De Doorns are concerned about going hungry and money for Christmas. When we lose our unity on this issue, we lose our strength,” she said.

Many other workers interviewed by the Cape Argus in De Doorns raised similar concerns.

That workers were divided on whether to continue with strike action was evident at a meeting where Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies addressed the crowd.

He said he was there to report back to workers on steps his department and government had taken to address the issue of poor conditions and wages in the agricultural sector.

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Cape Argus