Cops arrest armed ‘AWB men’
Police arrested seven armed men on Tuesday as farmworkers in South Africa’s picturesque wine lands resumed strike action, with tension enveloping the Western Cape region. The men, suspected to be members of the far-right Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), were found with one firearm and 60 rounds of ammunition at a roadblock leading to the epicentre of the farmworkers strike.
Regional police spokesperson Andre Traut said the suspects aged between 33 and 66 years “were driving in the direction of De Doorns when their vehicle was searched”. It was in De Doorns — outside Cape Town — that last month’s unrest began, leaving two dead and vineyards burnt. On Tuesday, there were however few signs of a repeat of last month’s deadly violence as the strike resumed.
The strike, which comes at the start of South Africa’s grape harvest season, turned violent in November when workers burned vineyards, looted shops and blockaded streets with burning tyres in towns close to Cape Town. Many of the farmers have since hired private security firms to protect their property while the police have sent hundreds of additional officers to monitor the area.
Mario Wanza, a spokesperson for the Farmworkers Strike Coalition, said a number of farmworkers and protest organisers were arrested after the police fired rubber bullets in the area of Paarl, in the orange farming town of Citrusdal and near the town of Montagu. “A number of people were shot,” he said. “We expect the strike to carry on for a number of days.” Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut said the situation in farming communities was “under control” late on Tuesday afternoon.
Porschia Adams, a spokesperson for AgriWes-Cape, which represents farmers in the Western Cape province, said farmworkers marched to the group’s offices in Paarl to hand over a memorandum of demands. “About 200 people came in a group,” she said. “It was very small. Most of the areas today were quiet.” Workers are demanding that their R70 daily wages be increased to R150. Adams said a strike was unusual for the farming industry, where wage disputes were normally resolved “on the ground”. “Farmworkers do not normally strike. They are partners in business and they realise what their role is. They sort their issues out on the farm with the farmers.” Adams said farmers were “reassessing their risks and thinking about alternatives” to using labour.
The fruit industry in the Western Cape employs around 200 000 permanent workers and 200 000 casual labourers. Michael Loubser, a spokesperson for Hex Valley Table Grape Farmers Association, said no violence had been reported early on Tuesday. “About 95 percent of the permanent staff are at work today,” he said. The only people who were not able to work were those from the nearby Stofland informal settlement, he said.
“The workers there have been told that if they go to work there will be consequences,” Loubser said. So far talks to end the dispute have remained deadlocked. Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant has said that the basic wage may only be reviewed one year after it was put in place, according to legislation, with the current level dating to March this year. Tony Ehrenreich, the general secretary of Western Cape branch of union federation Cosatu, said discussions with farmers had been fruitless. “So far our discussions have yielded no results.”
Islamists Attack UGTT March
Tunisian police broke up fighting in Tunis on Tuesday when pro-government Islamists attacked labor union members they blamed for inciting protests last week against the Islamist government. Several hundred Islamists with knives and sticks charged a gathering of members of Tunisia’s biggest union, UGTT, in the capital and broke windows at its offices with stones, a Reuters witness said. Police then intervened to separate the two groups.
About 10 people were hurt in the clashes, the witness said. “UGTT, you are thieves, you want to destroy the country,” the Islamists chanted. They also carried banners. Hundreds of UGTT members, who backed days of protests over lack of jobs and development in the deprived town Siliana last week, had been chanting slogans in the streets by the UGTT headquarters calling for a general strike and the downfall of the government led by the Islamist Ennahda party.
“Ennahda will end up like Ben Ali. They have not chosen their enemy well,” said one demonstrator, referring to Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the veteran autocrat toppled in the Arab Spring uprising in January 2011. Later, Islamists and leftists threw bottles and stones at each other near the government’s headquarters where some 2,000 unionists had gathered to demonstrate against Ennahda prime minister Hamadi Jebali.
The protests were the fiercest since conservative Salafi Islamists attacked the U.S. embassy in Tunis in September over an anti-Islam film made in California, in violence that left four people dead. The clashes on Tuesday did not appear to involve Salafis. “This is a message from Ennahda to stop union activism. It’s the same method used by Ben Ali,” said Fethi Debek, a member of the UGTT executive. Ennahda came to power after the ousting of Ben Ali, whose police state had repressed Islamists and promoted secularism. It distanced itself from the attack on the unionists, who were gathering to commemorate the death of a famed labor leader, calling for “self-restraint”.
“Ennahda strongly condemns the violent attack on protesters and expresses its solidarity with all those injured,” it said. The headquarters of all national bodies needed to be “emptied of all tools of violence”, the party said. Ennahda accused leftists who lost last year’s elections of fomenting the unrest in Siliana by provoking Tunisians in impoverished areas into confrontations that would drive away foreign investors. The protests, in which at least 252 people being injured – including some cases of blinding by birdshot – began after a UGTT call to take to the streets to demand jobs, investment and the removal of Ennahda’s Islamist governor of the province.
ROAD RAGE IN LA BREA
ENRAGED and at their wits’ end over decades of neglect and being forced to use a severely dilapidated, crumbling and pothole-filled road network, residents of La Brea yesterday blocked all major and minor access roads with debris in a fiery protest which affected thousands of persons who were stranded in miles-long traffic. It was a case of road rage on both sides of the divide. Rage by residents over the crumbling roads and rage among stranded motorists and their passengers including school children, some of whom were stuck in the traffic for over eight hours. Schoolchildren, persons on their way to work at various establishments, commuters, taxi and maxi drivers as well as truck drivers were all stuck in the traffic either heading out of Point Fortin or heading toward La Brea and surrounding communities in the south-western area.
The protest began under the cover of darkness at four o’clock in the morning when dozens of residents dragged tree trunks, old tyres, derelict kitchen appliances and other debris across the Southern Main Road. In a coordinated effort aimed at blocking all access to and from La Brea, secondary roads were also blocked. Some of the debris were set on fire. The main blockage in the heart of La Brea at Point D’Or Junction effectively cut off traffic from entering Point Fortin and villages further south including Erin, Granville and Cedros. Vehicles caught in the jam, were prevented from leaving La Brea en route to San Fernando, Princes Town, Couva and areas further north, affecting thousands of persons.
Commuters were seen walking in groups while other trudged along in the hot sun frantically stopping the odd vehicle that happened to get through debris-blocked road, begging the driver for a lift. The protesting residents played a “cat and mouse” game with police and fire services to ensure the blockade worked. When a particular area was cleared, a few motorists were allowed to drive through, but as soon as the police left to clear another area, the protesters blocked the road again with debris.
The roadway was finally cleared more than eight hours later, at 1.30 pm, when officers from the Police Riot Squad reached shortly before Works and Infrastructure Minister Emmanuel George arrived. Protesting residents from the community which has been a traditional stronghold of the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) and whose current MP (Fitzgerald Jeffrey) is from that party, said the protest was not about politics as the roads were deteriorating for decades and in that time, even when the PNM was in power, were never repaired and repaved.
“This is not about politics. This is about our anger and stress over these terrible roads. The pitch lake is located in La Brea but for donkey years we have suffered because of these bad roads,” an angry protester said. However, speaking to reporters at the scene Jeffrey laid the blame squarely on the People’s Partnership Government saying that for several months, he had sent emails, text messages and correspondence to Minister George about the road condition but to no avail. Jeffrey said he even raised the issue in Parliament. Some onlookers told Newsday that the manner in which thousands of persons were directly affected by the protest, underscored the urgent need for the construction of the Point Fortin to San Fernando Highway.
Panamanians Protest Suspension of Talks
Dec 4 (Prensa Latina) The people from Colon take to the streets again on Tuesday to protest the suspension of the talks with the Panamanian government and set December 10 as the deadline for the Executive to take it up again and respond to their demands. The information was provided by Felipe Cabezas, leader of the Broad Front for Colon (FAC) and main organizer of the talks assumed by the government after 11 days of protests against an already-abolished law that allowed to sell lands of the Colon Free Trade Zone.
Cabezas warned that the government stance is very dangerous, because the people from Colon have not got compensation for the relatives of the four fatal victims and the 48 people wounded during police repression, while there is not a single police agent arrested and their salaries and travel allowance have been increased.
He said the people from Colon would demand in the march that the talks are resumed and would support the Front’s proposal of setting the mentioned deadline to reopen the negotiation table, faced with the government refusal. It is a serious proposal, said Cabezas.
Mulli Brothers fails to pay tea estate workers as 500 quit jobs in protest
Mulli Brothers is failing to pay its tea estate workers in Mulanje and 500 of them have gone to the labour office for mediation. Up to 500 workers of Smallholder Tea Company (Steco) and Chitakale tea estate, subsidiary companies of Mulli Group in Mulanje district, have given up their jobs after the group failed to pay them salary arrears for three months, a district labour officer has confirmed.
The employees made the decision on Monday afternoon during mediation talks held at the district labour office where the workers marched to present their grievances, our sources at the companies in Mulanje said. The workers had earlier in the morning held protests at their premises, demanding their pay. Management of the company had to call the Police who fired teargas to disperse the angry workers, who blocked roads leading into the premises of the two companies and denied other employees access, effectively grounding to a halt production at the two companies.
Some of those interviewed accused their employer of taking their patience for granted by failing to honour promises made after another strike by the workers early last month. “We have lost our patience. Our bosses have been lying to us all along. They promised to pay us our arrears by 30th November, but to date we haven’t been paid. All they do is to tell us more lies,” said one of the employees.