South African Farms Unaffected by Strikes, Agri SA SaysMike Cohen and Tshepiso Mokhema
Strikes and protests that resumed in rural areas of Western Cape Province yesterday don’t appear to have affected production and harvesting, South Africa’s main farmers’ organization said.
“There has been some indication of intimidation and threats that have caused people to stay at home,” Anton Rabe, chairman of Agri SA’s labor committee, said today by phone from Paarl, near Cape Town. “It is impossible to quantify that. It seems as if most problems are in some of the rural towns.”
Unrest has hit five towns, including De Doorns, about 150 kilometers (94 miles) northeast of Cape Town, where a journalist’s car was set on fire and police vehicles were damaged, Andre Traut, a police spokesman in the Western Cape, said by phone. Some of the 63 people arrested yesterday will appear in court today on protest-related charges, he said.
Footage of police firing rubber bullets and stun grenades at protestors who pelted them with stones was screened by eNCA. Six people were arrested today, the Johannesburg-based news channel said.
Protestors in De Doorns blocked off the main highway linking Johannesburg and Cape Town, the two largest cities, and police used a water cannon to disperse them, the South African Press Association reported.
Thousands of agricultural employees in the Western Cape, South Africa’s biggest table grape-growing region, went on strike in November to demand a rise in the minimum wage to 150 rand ($17) a day from 70 rand. Two people died and protesters burned vineyards and sheds, causing damage estimated by AgriSA at 120 million rand.
Unions and workers suspended their labor action on Dec. 5, to allow new minimum wages to be negotiated on a farm-by-farm basis. Protests resumed after farmers failed to meet employee demands.
The harvest season for table grapes in the Western Cape got under way this month. South Africa is the continent’s biggest exporter of the fruit.
Distell Group Ltd., South Africa’s biggest wine and spirit producer, has not experienced any disruptions to its supplies or farming operations, Finance Director Merwe Botha said by telephone from Cape Town.
It’s unclear whether those protesting are farmworkers, Rabe said.
“The workers are still striking and it’s spreading to more towns,” Sandile Keni, a provincial organizer for the Food and Allied Workers Union, said in a mobile-phone interview. Workers have “decided that until someone comes to them with a positive response, someone from government or Agri SA, they will continue to strike.”
The government says it can only legislate new minimum pay from April when the prevailing rates will have been in place for 12 months. Agri SA says it doesn’t have a mandate from its members to negotiate wages.