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De Doorns under siege

Jan 17 2013 16:29 Sapa
Robertson farm protest

Marchers were stopping at every farm to hand farmers a memorandum in which they demanded, among other things, an increase in their daily wage to R150. (Picture: Johan Cloete/News24 User)

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Cape Town - Thousands of striking farmworkers marched along the N1 highway in De Doorns on Thursday afternoon, the Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry (Bawsi) said.

They were visiting farms along the way to pick up more supporters.

"I'm leading the march and there are thousands of us here being led by Nyalas [armoured police vans]. I am sure the whole country's police are here," said Bawsi president Nosey Pieterse.

"We are peacefully demonstrating to everybody that this thing [the strike] is not going to go away. It's an emphatic message that the strike is alive."

Marchers were stopping at every farm to hand farmers a memorandum in which they demanded, among other things, an increase in their daily wage to R150.

Pieterse said the march and farm visits were not meant to provoke farmers.

Workers marched about 10km in scorching heat; the SA Weather Service predicted a temperature of 35 degrees Celsius. They planned to stop the march at the Hex River High School.

Western Cape police spokesperson Andre Traut said police were keeping watch and no violence had yet been reported.

Farmworkers went on strike last year for a higher daily wage and the implementation of a coherent land reform programme.

The strike was suspended in December, but resumed last Wednesday in various towns in the province.

The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) announced a week-long suspension of the strike on Tuesday, on condition that Agri SA honour commitments to "local-level" agreements and agree to stop the victimisation of workers.

Cosatu's Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich said the suspension excluded De Doorns, because workers there were standing by their demand for R150, and were not open to negotiation.

Ehrenreich and agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg said a large number of farmworkers were back at work in many rural towns on Thursday.

At least 180 people have been arrested in connection with the protests since last Wednesday, mostly for public violence.

The Freedom Front Plus and the Transvaal Agricultural Union (Tau-SA), both condemned a comment Ehrenreich apparently made during a briefing about the suspension of the strike on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the Beeld newspaper reported him as saying: "The land war will be coming soon."

FF Plus spokesperson Pieter Groenewald said comments such as this bordered on hate speech and encouraged violence.

"Responsible government demands that president Jacob Zuma and his ministers of land reform and agriculture should intervene and repudiate Ehrenreich," he said.

In a statement, Tau-SA said it was clear the country needed to prepare itself for "large-scale trouble countrywide".

"The ANC and its allies need to give the citizens of South Africa a clear answer on what their ultimate goal regarding food production on available agricultural land in South Africa is," said Tau-SA president Louis Meintjies.

"Tony Ehrenreich and his friends should walk the talk by not eating food produced locally by South African farmers, in preference to imported food."

Ehrenreich was not immediately available to respond.



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de doorns  |  farms  |  wages  |  farmworker protests
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