Minister: Don't charge De Doorns workers

Agriculture minister calls for all charges against arrested De Doorns farm workers to be dropped.

Protesting farm workers march through the De Doorns town centre on 6 November 2012. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN

CAPE TOWN - There were calls on Tuesday for all the criminal charges levelled against De Doorns protestors to be dropped.

Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson made the call while addressing thousands of workers in the farming town on Tuesday.

The minister also urged demonstrators not to intimidate non-striking workers and not to torch vineyards.

Since the strike started last week, several people were arrested for public violence.

Joemat-Pettersson said the strikers must not be prosecuted.

"No case must be brought against a single worker. Each and every criminal case or charge that was laid against a farm worker must be withdrawn."

At the same time Joemat-Pettersson said she would meet with other relevant ministers on Wednesday to discuss farm workers' issues.

"We will meet with all ministers, to decide and to legalise a living wage for you. The most important part is that I will speak to the president on your behalf. The president has seen you, he has seen your fight and he has listened to you," she told protestors.

But one protestor said he did not hear what he wanted to from Joemat-Petterson.

"When it comes to the commodity or the money, when we say we need money to buy or to afford something, they take something like two weeks - which is very inconsiderate."

Workers have been striking since Monday last week, demanding that their daily wage be doubled to R150.

Wage negotiations between De Doorns farmers and worker representatives deadlocked, following recent violent protests in the small Hex River Valley town.

Demonstrators blocked the N1 highway and burnt several hectares of vineyards.

Many De Doorns farmers and their families have fled their homes amid unrest, while some parents have been afraid to send their children to school.

As officials scramble to find a solution to the De Doorns farm workers' strike, it appears protests are now spreading to other parts of the Western Cape.

Western Cape police spokesperson Andre Traut said they were also keeping an eye on the town of Ceres.


Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in the Western Cape said it hopes it will get a commitment from the president to look into the plight of farm workers.

The trade union federation said if this happens the strike will be put on hold.

Cosatu's Western Cape Secretary Tony Ehrenreich said: "The strike will carry on until the president gives the commitment that he will address the issue of wages. If he gives that commitment tomorrow, people will go back and give [Jacob] Zuma two weeks in which he will be able to come back and address the wage increase."