Thursday, November 15, 2012

South African Farmworkers Continue Strike in Defiance of Unions

South African Farmworkers Continue Strike in Defiance of Unions

By Tshepiso Mokhema and Mike Cohen on

November 15, 2012

South African farmworkers in the Western Cape province continued to strike today, defying government and union calls to return to work while minimum wages are reviewed.

“Workers won’t accept the call to suspend the strike,” Lookington Ndongeni, provincial secretary for the Food and Allied Workers Union, said by phone from Cape Town. “We will be speaking to them today. We are hoping they will listen to us and stop the strike.”

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

The workers are demanding a daily wage of 150 rand ($17), more than double the current minimum of 70 rand, while 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.

Not Unionized

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

Tony Ehrenreich, the head of Cosatu in the Western Cape, and Palesa Mokomela, a spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, both said they were awaiting feedback on the strike and couldn’t comment.

“It seems that Cosatu cannot control” the striking farmworkers, Porchia Adams, a spokeswoman for Agri Wes-Cape, the Western Cape province’s agricultural trade association, said in an e-mail. “The strike is officially called off but there are still people that are continuing with strike action in different regions of the Western Cape. We are receiving reports and will have more clarity regarding the situation later today.”

Burning Tires

“Protests are still ongoing and we are hectically busy,” Nicky Alberts, a police captain in the southern town of Swellendam said in a phone interview today. “They are burning tires in town, near the municipalities and schools. The strike just keeps spreading.”

The situation in De Doorns was quiet today, said Mzikayise Moloi, a police captain in the town.

“Last night there was an incident reported where striking workers attacked non-striking workers,” he said in a phone interview. “No arrests have been made yet.”

While no serious acts of violence been reported today, the situation was still volatile and officers had been deployed to maintain law and order, Western Cape police spokesman Andre Traut said in an e-mailed statement.

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.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tshepiso Mokhema in Johannesburg at; Mike Cohen in Cape Town at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at

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