Cosatu halt to farmworkers’ strike an answer to prayers

Protesters in De Doorns, Western Cape, let farmers know how they feel about their pay (PHOTO : SHELLEY CHRISTIANS — TIMES LIVE)

Originally published in Times Live

Just hours before the resumption of the Western Cape farmworkers’ strike, farmers in the Hex River Valley gathered at the gates of their farms to ask God for help. Their prayers, it seems, were heard.

The area was calm yesterday, in stark contrast to last month when protesting workers blocked the N1 highway in De Doorns with stones and burning tyres.

But not all farms escaped violence yesterday, with unrest in Robertson, Rawsonville and Citrusdal.

Yesterday afternoon in Rawsonville, a boy was seen running into the vineyards before starting a fire.

Thereafter he joined of a group of about 10 people who pelted two farmers, one in a bakkie, the other on a quad bike, with stones.

After police put out the fire, another farmer and his son rushed to the officers asking for help. The son had been on his motorcycle in the vineyards when he, too, was stoned.

“Where are the keys to the bike,” asked the officer. “Still in the bike. I had to leave it there and run away when they started throwing stones at me,” the son replied.

At about the same time, Cosatu called off the strike.

The trade union federation had accepted an agreement put forward by Agri-SA whereby the farmers union “committed” itself to negotiations on individual farms and continue talks on the demand for a R150-a-day minimum wage.

“Negotiations will also include a profit-sharing scheme, this given the huge amount of money made by farmers as a result of exchange rate variations,” it said.

According to Cosatu, the agreement is also that employees will return to work and be allowed to join the union of their choice.

Should the parties not come to a wage agreement by January 9, workers will take action again.

“This agreement represents a huge victory for farmworkers as it sets the basis for new regulations between farmworkers and farmers to build a more fair and just agricultural environment,” Cosatu said.

Carmen Louw, programme co-ordinator for the Women on Farms Project, reported that four people were shot in Robertson yesterday morning and about 20 people were arrested in Citrusdal.

Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut would confirm only that a teenager was shot in Robertson.

“A 17-year-old reported an attempted murder case at Robertson police station because he was [allegedly] shot with a rubber bullet by police. The investigation is conducted by the [Indendent Police Investigative Directorate], which is in a better position to comment on the matter,” said Traut.

He confirmed that people were arrested in Citrusdal for public violence but could not disclose the number of arrests.

It was rumoured that police arrested seven armed rightwingers in Worcester but Traut would not comment on the identity or affiliation of seven suspects arrested at a roadblock on the N1.

“The suspects were driving in the direction of De Doorns when their vehicle was searched. A 308 Mauser and 60 rounds of ammunition were found in the vehicle and no one could produce a valid licence for the possession thereof,” Traut said.

The Rev Andre Kruger, who prayed for the farmers in the Hex River Valley on Monday night, said they hoped relations between farmers and workers could be restored.

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