15 November 2012

South Africa: Cosatu Still Informing Workers

Photo: Kate Stegeman/Daily Maverick
Police monitor demonstrators: Protests had spread across the winelands from De Doorns to Robertson, Wolesley, Ceres, Prince Alfred Hamlet and the surrounds.

Cape Town — It would take a bit more time to inform all Western Cape farmworkers to suspend their strike, the provincial Congress of SA Trade Unions said on Thursday.

"We have in many towns deployed our organisers and those of other organisations to go report back and speak to workers," organiser Mike Louw said.

"Unfortunately sporadic pockets of protests are still happening, and the behaviour and actions of police have exacerbated the situation."

Louw said workers were notified from Wednesday in areas such as De Doorns, Robertson, Ceres, Wolseley, and Prince Alfred Hamlet.

Other organisations helping to spread the message were the Food and Allied Workers' Union, the Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry, Sikhula Sonke, and the Trust for Community Outreach and Education.

"Our attempt really is to gather information now and deploy people further to go back and inform people. We are calling on farmers to be lenient and allow workers to return, even though they may return late."

Louw said resources were stretched but the congress was confident it could enforce the suspension, despite some workers' organisations rejecting it.

The labour department announced on Wednesday that farmworkers would suspend their protests over wages and living conditions in 16 towns for two weeks.

Acting Labour Minister Angie Motshekga said Cosatu had consulted workers and it was agreed they would return to work on Thursday and stop violence and vandalism.

The suspension was on condition that the sectoral determination for agriculture be looked at by the Employment Condition Commission next Wednesday.

This meant the R70 a day minimum wage for farmworkers would be renegotiated.

Grape harvesters in the Hex River Valley had been protesting for more than a week about their wages, demanding R150 a day. Most earned between R69 and R75 a day, with R80 being the highest and only offer from farmers so far.

Indications on Thursday were that there were still protests in certain areas.

According to United Democratic Front head Mario Wanza, workers were protesting in Villiersdorp, Ashton and Swellendam. He said farmworkers in Montagu had also joined the strike.

The Workers' International Vanguard Party said it had received reports of strikes in Villiersdorp, Grabouw, Ceres, Wolseley and De Doorns, with some workers demanding R200 a day.

It said workers would continue until at least R150 per day was gazetted and labour brokers banned.

"The Cosatu leaders have tried to switch off the workers as if their struggle is a tap that can be opened and closed at will," Workers' International Vanguard Party spokesman Shaheed Mahomed said.

"Workers have rejected the suspension in their thousands and the strike is still continuing."

Mahomed alleged that three farmworkers were killed during a protest in Wolseley on Wednesday and this had enraged workers.

Provincial police said this allegation was false and confirmed one death.

Tractor driver Michael Daniels, 28, was walking to buy groceries in Wolseley when he was shot and killed, allegedly by provincial police, the Cape Times reported.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) had opened an investigation into the matter.

Western Cape police spokesman Lt-Col Andre Traut said he would issue an updated report on protests later on Thursday.

Cosatu called on all organisations to work together to allow "sanity to prevail".

"Having people going against what we are trying to do is uncalled-for and unacceptable. It's sabotage," Louw said.

AfriForum would send a task team to the province on Friday to determine how the unrest had affected farming communities.

"From the messages we have received it seems that our members' safety and property are being threatened," community affairs head Cornelius Jansen van Rensburg said.

"We are worried that government is not taking proper measures to restore order and ensure people's safety. Cosatu's involvement also raises the question of whether these actions are not political stirrings, running up to the ANC's Mangaung conference."

Afriforum would visit Robertson, Bonnievale, Ashton, Worcester, Villiersdorp, Swellendam, Wellington, and De Doorns.

"We will attempt to speak to all parties involved to avoid bias," the organisation said.

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