AFRICANGLOBE – One person has died in the violent strike engulfing the grape growing region of South Africa’s Western Cape Province.
The Western Cape Health Department said the farmworker died from injuries sustained after he was hit in the head by a rubber bullet, the first recorded death since the farm labourers resumed their strike on January 9.
Police have often been called to use teargas to disperse the increasingly angry striking workers.
The force’s Independent Police Investigations Directorate is investigating the case, which is increasingly mirroring the Marikana massacre, where police shot and killed 34 striking mineworkers last year.
Police Minister, Nathi Mthethwa warned that violence would not be tolerated and slammed the protesters for destroying private property.
Mthethwa said even if the protesters had a constitutional right to embark on strikes, they did not have the right to destroy property and endanger lives.
The death of the farmworker comes amid indications that some farmers were willing to negotiate a pay rise with the striking labourers.
Farmworkers went on strike last November demanding an increase in their daily wages from R69 (US $9) to R150(US $16), and that a coherent land reform programme be implemented.
The strike was suspended in December, but resumed a week ago in various towns in the province.
State Violence and Brutality
De Doorns has been the epicenter of the strike action, which has quickly spread to towns across the province.
The town of De Doorns is also the centre of the main table grape area of the Hex River Valley and has been the eye of the violent strikes.
The industrial action comes at the height of grape harvesting season.
Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) says a wage deal of R105 a day has been brokered with a significant amount of farmers in Clanwilliam.
Cosatu’s Tony Ehrenreich said this “was a model agreement that could be used in other towns to possibly end the strike.
But the employer body Agri-SA dismissed Cosatu’s comments, saying it had not been contacted by the labour federation regarding a plan to extend a recent wage deal brokered between farmers and their workers in Clanwilliam to the rest of the Western Cape.
“Except through the media, we’ve heard nothing from the Congress of SA Trade Unions,” Agri-Western Cape said.
Several COSATU affiliates across the country have given their support to the farmworkers strike.
In the Eastern Cape, Cosatu said they were “perturbed by the spate of violence and brutality that seems to be engulfing the legitimate strike action by the workers who have mostly been subjected to lifelong dehumanising working and living conditions”.
Cosatu said it also demanded the urgent intervention of the Department of Labour to help bring the strike to an early end.
The labour union said the Labour Department should establish a commission on the conditions of farm workers and ensure that the relevant labour laws were adhered to by all employers and that all transgressions are severely punished.
Meanwhile, the Labour Department is hosting public hearings this week to garner opinions of the affected workers, amid a review of the sector’s minimum wage.