Farmworker strike turns violent in Grabouw

A car is set alight by striking farmworkers in De Doorns, Western Cape. Picture: @BOSBEER2006 (twitter)
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CAPE TOWN - Protesting farmworkers stoned cars along the N2 highway and then torched a shed in one of the surrounding farms on Thursday.

Farm manager Cathy Shaw in Grabouw said farmworkers went down a road in Rooidak and torched a shed on one of the farms there.

She said farmers were sharing information with each other via two-way radio.

Meanwhile, chairman of the Grabouw Elgin Civic Organisation, John Michaels, blamed the police for provoking the demonstrators.

“The problem is people are angry. People want to march to town. The police are preventing them from doing so and that is creating a lot of trouble.”

Michaels has been leading the protest and coordinating the strike in the Overberg town.

Meanwhile, unions are adamant they won't back down from their demand for double daily wages.  

Building and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (BAWUSA)’s James Cornelius said it was unfair so many workers were not participating in the industrial action.

“We’re disappointed in them because we feel we’re meant to support each other. As BAWUSA we support the workers, but some of the workers are not supporting their union.”

Agri SA claimed there was around an 80 percent turnout at most farms on Wednesday. 

One worker admitted non-striking colleagues were intimidated in the Wolseley area.

“We have our plans. We don’t care about the police around us. We’ll make sure we’re peaceful, but we’re going to stop those farmworkers who are at work.”

Another labourer said it is only fair farmers accede to their wage demands.

“We’ve been working on farms for years and can’t be paid R69 per day year in and year out.”

The chaotic farmworker strike, supported by disgruntled labourers in De Doorns, Grabouw, Citrusdal and Villiersdorp has entered its second day. 

Labourers want an increase of R150. 

Meanwhile, Agri Wes-Cape said with it being harvest season in the grape and stone fruit industry the strike will have a definite impact on exports.

Agri Wes-Cape’s Portia Adams said the strike could not have happened at a worst time.

“It is toward the end of the stone fruit harvesting period and these products must be taken to harvesters. It’s important that the products are harvested and sent to market.”

She said the strikes happened smack in the middle of harvest season and they want it to end.

“We know that workers want to work and we’re grateful for that. We are questioning the intentions of those people who are part of the strike. Is it really for a higher wage, or is it for something different?”

On Wednesday 50 people were arrested for public violence in connection with farmworker protests across the province. 

In De Doorns a farm tractor and a Cape Times journalist's vehicle were torched. 

The reporter escaped with light injuries.

(Edited by Tamsin Wort)