Farm workers defy call to return to work
Striking farm workers have defied a government call to return to work, with labourers demanding action against a police captain over the death of one of their colleagues during clashes.
Workers in the Western Cape town of Wolseley – earlier the scene of deadly violence – marched through the town early today, chanting and singing, despite government announcements that the strike had been suspended.
Government and Cosatu had earlier announced that workers would freeze the strike for two weeks while the sector’s R70 minimum wage is reviewed.
But protesters have insisted they will not return to the fruit-growing region’s farms until they receive a daily wage of at least R150.
“It’s not over for us. We are continuing no matter what. We are going forward no matter what,” said 19-year-old seasonal fruit farm worker Mandla Betshe.
“It’s just a wish for them (for it) to be over. The strike is not finished,” insisted Pieter Opperman (38) who earns R80 a day.
“If we get that settlement of R150, I will go back to work with all my heart. Because then I know I can put food on the table for my family and I can sort myself out.”
The scene early today was tense, with a heavy police presence.
A worker delegation handed a list of demands to police including the suspension of the local police captain, after a 28-year-old man was killed in clashes.
“The most important thing is … who gave the order to shoot. Obviously someone has to take a responsibility,” said Lamie Mqungquthu, part of the worker delegation.
“Our aim today is to make peace with the police, they must leave the people because all of us have a right” to protest, he said.
Police described the situation as “volatile”, with 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.