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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 11, No. 43, 22 November 2012

In this Issue:


Red Readers Forum

De Doorns Farm Workers` Strike

By Mncedisi Nobala

The nation has witnessed for the first time strikes of the farm workers in the Cape Winelands District Municipality (Western Cape) which started in the farms around De Doorns. Their demands were that they be paid R 150 per day and that their working conditions must be improved. These strikes are unprecedented in the country where farm workers sacrifice anything and fight for their rights. This caught everyone by surprise. We are talking about farm workers who the majority are not unionized especially the seasonal workers. This is due to the nature of their work and some farmer owners refusing any union activity in what the call their property.

Some of us started to witness this only two weeks ago when the strike started to intensify. The violence, looting and destruction of property became part of it. People of the Cape Winelands will know that some seasonal workers went on strike last year during the same period but this strike never caught media headlines because the was done peacefully. Some of us will know that The New Age (18 October 2012) published an article where the farm workers in De Doorns when they went on strike.

The response of the farm owners was to involve the police who arrested 35 protesting workers especially the foreign national from Lesotho. The charges against the protesting workers were that their documentation had expired. My question was, why were they being arrested when they went on strike or was it because the farmers were using the state to fight their battles and silence the workers? One needs to ask, what was the role of labour brokers in employing the foreign nationals? These are the same labour brokers that contributed to the fight between foreign nationals and the local just over three year ago. The SACP and COSATU are being ridiculed when they call for labour brokers to be banned. I hope the ANC delegates to Mangaung conference will think of the farm workers and other workers exploited by labour brokers when they discuss this matter.

The farm workers in De Doorns wrote about two months back to the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Petersson to complain about the treatment they received from the farm owners, who the latter refused them to participate in union activities including meetings. When the violence, looting and destruction of property started to be part of the strike the Premier of the Western Cape and later the Police MEC visited the area but were both rejected by the workers. The strikes were labelled as politically motivated by DA leadership in the province.

This is the hypocrisy of the Democratic Alliance leadership that when people in the Western Cape voice their concerns through protest and strike they are insulted as being used by the ANC. This leadership is saying that the people of the Western Cape cannot protest or strike without being used by the ANC and allies. Every time there is a march the Premier will send one of her junior to receive the memorandum. The SACP marched to the provincial parliament on 26 October 2012 and the Premier sent her spokesperson.

In response to the farm workers` strike there was a call for the President to deploy the army and described the situation as anarchy. I was not surprise by this call of the army because just a few months ago the she called for the army to fight gangsterism in the province. Is this call of the army in defence of the farmers against defenceless farm workers who are fighting for their rights to dignity in their country?

When Premier Zille led a delegation of the DA attempted visit to the home of the president the farm workers were being exploited by the farmers working under severe conditions. When she wanted to be the champion of the rural people in Nkandla farm workers in the De Doorns were paid less than R 70 per day. When she went to deliver letters to the President about Limpopo textbooks her MEC for Education was busy closing 27 schools.

I condemn violence, looting and destruction of property as this undermines the legitimate and genuine concerns of the workers who are the most exploited. The farmers` representative and the Premier have been focusing of the violence and destruction of property without addressing the main issue.

It is common knowledge now that the government and the workers` representative made an agreement of suspending the strike for two weeks and that workers must go back to work. I fully support the call made by FAWU to reverse all the letters of suspensions and evictions to the workers as this undermines the agreement of the suspension of the strike.

In conclusion, these strikes happening in our country are the frustration of the working class and the poor of the crisis of capitalism. Our media and analysts are not telling us the truth but are blaming the ANC government of being leaderless and directionless under President Zuma. The mine workers and farm workers strikes give us an opportunity to not only look at them as pure labour matters but also the underlining causes of them. The triple crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality will never be dealt with under the current system of capitalism. The Department of Labour must investigate the conditions of the farm workers including their overall benefits. It must also enforce the compliance of the farm owners with the labour laws of the country. This will give us a clearer picture about what is really the condition of workers beyond what they get paid.

Mncedisi Nobala is the deputy chairperson ANC AB Xuma Branch and the Boland deputy district secretary of the SACP (Western Cape) and I write in my personal capacity.