South African Farmworkers Resume Protests Over Higher Wages
Farmworkers demanding higher wages in South Africa’s biggest table grape-growing region resumed protests today in the absence of new talks between the government, labor unions and the main farmers organization.
About 150 people protested peacefully near a shanty town outside Worcester in the Western Cape province, demanding that the minimum wage be increased to 150 rand a day ($16.92) from 70 rand. In Stofland, on the outskirts of De Doorns, about 50 people marched through the streets of the settlement singing songs and carrying banners of the United Democratic Front, a civil rights group.
“We want 150,” said Ricardo van Wyk, a part-time grape picker protesting outside Worcester, about 120 kilometers (74 miles) north-east of Cape Town. “It must happen today. We will strike until we get that money.”
Farmworkers burnt down vineyards and sheds and caused damages estimated at 120 million rand since strikes began on Nov. 6, according to AgriSA. The Congress of South African Trade Unions suspended the strike two weeks ago so negotiations could begin.
Employers rejected a compromise proposal by unions to raise pay to 100 rand plus a bonus based on harvest profits, South Africa’s Business Day newspaper reported.
A meeting between the negotiating parties scheduled for 10 a.m. local time was canceled by Tina Joemat-Pettersson, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, according to Carl Opperman, provincial president of farmers’ group AgriSA. A meeting between the minister and “people from the farming sector” is scheduled for today, Palesa Mokomela, a spokeswoman for the minister, said by phone, declining to state a time.
South Africa’s worst mining strikes since the end of white minority rule in 1994 started at platinum operations in August, spreading to gold, coal and iron sites. Truck drivers went on a 2 1/2-week long strike on Sept. 24, also demanding higher wages.
The harvest season for table grapes in the province will start at the beginning of January. South Africa is the continent’s biggest exporter of the fruit.
“If things come right, we’ll stop the strike,” said Johannes van Rooi, 27, who has worked on a grape farm for 12 years earning 75 rand a day. “You can’t even buy stuff your kids need for school.”
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