South African Grape Farms Braced for New Wave of Wage Protests

Farms in South Africa’s biggest table grape-growing region are preparing for a new wave of protests scheduled for tomorrow as workers repeat their demand for higher wages.

Workers have burnt down vineyards and sheds and caused damage estimated at 120 million rand ($13.6 million) since strikes began in the Western Cape province on Nov. 6, according to farmers’ group AgriSA. The farmworkers want a minimum wage of 150 rand a day, up from the current level of 70 rand.

“I can’t see that they will enter private property again,” Migael Loubser, a farmer and chairman of the Hex River Table Grape Producers’ Association, said by phone from De Doorns, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) northeast of Cape Town. Farmers have hired private security firms to protect their property and non-striking workers, he said.

Miners at South African platinum mines began wildcat strikes in August that led to the killing of 46 people, including 34 shot by police near Lonmin Plc (LMI)’s Marikana mine on Aug. 16. The industrial action spread to gold, coal and iron ore mines as well as truck companies, with workers demanding higher wages.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, which brokered a two-week suspension of the strike last month and asked the labor minister to review minimum wages, said it was not ordering a renewal of strike action. “It comes from the farmworkers themselves,” Tony Ehrenreich, the organization’s provincial head, said by phone from Cape Town today.

The South African Table Grape Industry estimates that Hex River Valley, where De Doorns is located, will export 18.2 million to 18.5 million 4.5-kilogram cartons this season. The harvest will start in early-January, Loubser said. The nation’s total crop, the largest in Africa, will be 53.8 million to 55.1 million cartons, the organization said in an e-mailed response.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaco Visser in Johannesburg at avisser3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Viljoen at jviljoen@bloomberg.net

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