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WOLSELEY, South Africa: Striking South African farmworkers resisted a government call to return to work yesterday and demanded action against police over the death of one of their colleagues during clashes.
A day after a 28-year-old was killed in clashes with police and the government heralded a deal to end the week-long farmworkers strike, police said the situation remained “volatile.”
Unrest was reported in multiple towns and villages across the agricultural belt, not far from Cape Town.
In Wolseley workers marched vowing not to go back to work until wage demands are met and rubbishing government declarations that their strike was over.
The government and union grouping COSATU earlier claimed workers had agreed to freeze the strike for two weeks while the sector’s 70 rand ($8) minimum daily wage is reviewed.
“It’s not over for us,” said 19-year-old seasonal fruit farm worker Mandla Betshe.
“The killing is making people more determined that they must not go back to work,” he said.
Protesters insisted they will not return to the fruit-growing region’s farms until they are granted a daily wage of at least 150 rand ($17).
Aside from demonstrations in Wolseley, Police reported disturbances in the towns of De Doorns, Ceres and Swellendam.
“Police officers are deployed at all affected areas to maintain law and order, and to protect the public,” said Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut of the Western Cape police.
Farmers in the picture-postcard region tried to make sense of the violence. “We’ve never experienced anything like this before,” said Wolseley fruit farmer Anthony Dicey. “It’s been anarchy.”
Dicey said meeting workers’ demands would double labour bills that were already up to 50 percent of input costs.
“I don’t think it’s realistic,” he said. “The farms just won’t be able to survive.” At a meeting with police and Wolseley workers demand the removal of the local captain in connection with their colleagues killing.
Despite lingering anger, some labourers did say they were ready to go back to work.
“I will go back to work tomorrow because I’m not getting an income. I must work,” said Johannes Fortuin, 38, who has not worked for three days.
Police urged workers not retaliate against colleagues who had not heeded the call to strike.
“We are saying to them they need to suspend their strike whilst there are negotiations taking place,” said Vusumzi Myeki, provincial secretary for the South African National Civic Organisation who took part in the talks.
“The workers are willing to co-operate,” he said.
Meanwhile commercial farming body Agri Wes-Cape was still tallying the impact of the strikes, which are just the latest in a wave of labour unrest that has also rocked the mining and transport sectors.
“This is the worst extreme level of worker unrest that the Western Cape has experienced,” spokeswoman Porchia Adams said.
COSATU said farmworkers were merely protesting against “farmers intent on maintaining the old apartheid generational advantages.” AFP