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Most South African Farmworkers End Strike, Union Official Says

Most farmworkers in South Africa’s Western Cape Province heeded a call to suspend a strike while minimum wages are reviewed, a union official said.

“All our reports are that people are going to work,” said Tony Ehrenreich, head of the Congress of South African Trade Unions in the province. Some workers remained on strike in the southern towns of Wolseley and De Doorns, he said in phone interview from Cape Town today.

Strike-related protests that began on Nov. 6 in De Doorns, a grape-growing region, spread to about 16 rural towns. One farmworker was killed in Wolseley yesterday, according to the government, while vineyards and houses have been set on fire.

“The situation appears fairly calm,” Western Cape police spokesman Andre Traut said by phone from Cape Town today. “It would seem people are going back to work.”

The workers are demanding a daily wage of 150 rand ($17), more than double the current minimum of 70 rand, while some farmers have offered 80 rand. South Africa has been blighted by a series of violent strikes over pay that have spread from the mining sector into other parts of the economy since August, hurting output and growth.

Agriculture makes up about 2.1 percent of South Africa’s gross domestic product directly and farms produce about 6.5 percent of the country’s exports, including wine, citrus fruit, corn, grapes, sugar, apples and pears, according to the government.

Wage Review

The government and Cosatu, the country’s largest labor grouping, yesterday said workers would return to work while a review of minimum wages would be completed within two weeks. Most farmworkers are not unionized.

Earlier today, Nicky Alberts, a police captain in the southern town of Swellendam, said protests were continuing and the country’s main southern highway had been closed to traffic.

Labor unrest started in the platinum mining industry in August, spreading to other mines and transportation and manufacturing companies in South Africa, where a quarter of workers are unemployed and almost a third of the population of 51.8 million depends on welfare.

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