Cops shoot farm worker dead as strike worsens

By Time of article published Nov 15, 2012

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Jason Felix, Xolani Koyana, Aziz Hartley and Cobus Coetzee

POLICE have shot dead a farm worker and wounded six others, two press photographers were injured, and police vehicles were damaged as protests for more pay escalated in the Boland yesterday.

It is not clear yet whether police used live ammunition or rubber bullets.

Michael Daniels, a 28-year-old Wolseley father and sole breadwinner for his extended family, was shot in the chest as police and about 800 protesters clashed in the town’s main road, the R43.

“The man died as a result of police action, but we cannot give more details of the incident,” Independent Police Investigative Directorate spokesman Moses Dlamini said.

According to his mother, Magdalena, Daniels was on his way to buy groceries for her when he met protesters and walked with them.

Farm worker Deon Conradie, who picked up a fatally wounded Daniels, said a senior Wolseley police station officer had ordered the officers to open fire.

“She said ‘Skiet die goed vrek’ (Shoot the things dead). We got frustrated with police and some protesters threw stones and swore at them,” he said.

Police spokesman André Traut would not comment.

Conradie said: “Shots were fired and we ran. I looked back and saw Michael lying on the ground. He was shot in the chest. I lifted him up. We called the police. We poured water on his face, but he did not respond. As police came I picked Michael up and we put him in a police bakkie,” he said.

Conradie said Daniels was first taken to the police station and from there to Ceres Hospital, where it was confirmed he had died.

Residents said police used excessive force in handling the protest.

“The crowd was peaceful and we did not want any trouble. As we marched, police just opened fire on us,” said Alfred Johnson, a worker on a Ceres farm.

Another resident, Louise Lategan, said: “[It was not] necessary [for police] to just start shooting at those protesters. The road was filled with rubber bullets and cartridges.”

Asked about the allegations, Traut would confirm only that Daniels was shot dead and five people were injured.

“This matter is now the subject of investigation by [the Independent Police Investigative Directorate] and SAPS will not be in a position to divulge the finer details,” he said.

Dlamini said an inspector had been sent to investigate and would interview witnesses and the injured and ask for a police report.

“It is still too early to say what happened, but we will investigate the matter with the police,” said Dlamini. He would not be drawn on residents’ claims that live ammunition had been used. This would be part of the investigation, he said.

Protesters burned tyres, damaged shop windows and tipped over a police van. Vegetation next to the road outside town was set alight, as was a private vehicle. Later, about 400 people gathered outside the police station demanding to know who had shot Daniels and what would be done.

Community Safety MEC Dan Plato tried to speak to them, but the hostile crowd would not listen to him. “I wanted to come out here to you today and find out what is really happening,” he said.

People jeered at Plato before his bodyguard accompanied him back into the police station. Later, as Plato left, more mayhem erupted as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets after part of the crowd ran after his vehicle.

This happened at about the same time a storage facility outside Wolseley was burned to the ground.

Witzenberg Municipality manager David Nasson said there were more incidents of violence in Nduli township and neighbouring areas.

“It was very bad this morning. It was like a mini war zone. We had to close the municipal offices and a number of shops had to close after one was looted,” Nasson said.

He said protesters tried to torch a shop but were stopped by police.

Agri SA Western Cape president Cornie Swart said: “This is the worst violence we have experienced. For sure it is forces from the outside.

“It is political. People are being driven in by buses and taxis. It’s not a strike. It’s a total, political, blown-up thing.”

Provincial Health Department communications officer Joanne Otto said: “We admitted six patients [through] the casualty ward at Ceres Hospital. Five were from Wolseley and all were male. Two of them are in stable condition and three have been treated and discharged.

“Later a woman from Nduli, near Ceres, was brought in – apparently shot by rubber bullets.”

Photographers Mandla Mnyakama, of the Daily Sun, and Lulama Zenzile, from Die Burger, were injured by rubber bullets while they were covering yesterday’s protests, the SA National Editors Forum said. It said Zenzile was taken to a clinic and after X-rays confirmed that his nose was not broken, he was discharged. Mnyakama was shot in the back

Farm workers earn R69 a day and are demanding R150. The strike began in De Doorns two weeks ago and has spread to neighbouring towns such as Wolseley, Ceres, Tulbagh, Robertson and Prince Alfred Hamlet.

SA Table Grape Industry manager Rhomona Gouden said: “”If the unrest continues our competitors, such as Chile, will definitely take the gap and our market share – this will have an impact [for] years to come. Farms will go out of business and there will be significant job losses.”

In the Breede River Valley Municipality, where De Doorns is situated, 72 percent of 166 825 residents earned under R3 200 a month, while another third have no income, the latest census data show.

The valley contributes 29 percent or R1 billion of the total table grape exports – estimated at about R3.7bn.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant has announced that the minimum wage for farm workers is to be reviewed. Workers have reluctantly agreed to return to work today, suspending their strike for two weeks pending the undertaking that the minimum wage for farmworkers will be reviewed.

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