South Africa: striking workers burn vineyards in protest over ‘hunger wages’

Striking farm workers in South Africa’s biggest table grape-growing region set fire to more than 30 hectares of vineyards to protest against what they call “hunger wages”. Six people were arrested for public violence, and a farm owner was arrested for attempted murder after firing on thousands of protestors when violence broke out on Monday. “The wages here are too small, R72 (£5) a day. You cannot buy anything with that money,” strike leader Shaun Janca told Daily Maverick on the phone from De Doorns, in the Hex River Valley. “You must talk to the farmers.” he said in Afrikaans.

“The money that they pay us is nothing. We work our whole lives but still we have nothing.We are working for what? For what?” The strike started on 30 October when farm labourers stopped work and delivered a memorandum to the Western Cape government demanding higher wages, they said. But they claim the government only paid attention when the vineyards started to burn. “The workers were very unhappy about some of the comments made by the MEC of Agriculture of the Western Cape,” said Braam Hanekom, chairman of People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (Passop), which is part of the negotiations between farmers and workers.

“He said the workers’ demands were unclear, but the workers said they had already handed him a memorandum a week ago when the strike started last Thursday. “People are hungry, they are frustrated and they are tired. They want to work but they want to see some improvement in their working conditions,” Hanekom said. A fragile peace has since descended in the region as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration arbitrates between strikers and their employers.

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