South Africa farm unrest simmers as talks start
(AFP) –DE DOORNS, South Africa — Riot police remained out in force and debris blocked roads in South Africa’s picturesque Western Cape winelands on Friday, with tensions high amid a lull in clashes between striking farm workers and the authorities. After two days of wage demonstrations that saw police unload a barrage of rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas at hundreds of stone-throwing protestors, a halt to the violence raised hopes for spluttering talks that were set to resume later in the day. Workers angry at abysmal living standards and vast wealth disparities between white landowners and black labourers are demanding a doubling of minimum wages to $17.50 a day.
But talks to end the violent wage dispute have stumbled amid the constraints of existing wage agreements, power struggles among unions and differing stances taken by individual farmers. “We remain hopeful to find a solution to the strike,” Tony Ehrenreich, a provincial secretary for COSATU, South Africa’s largest trade union umbrella group, said Friday. “The strike is continuing, but there are also negotiations that are starting between some of the farmers and the unions. “About 60 percent of the farmers in the area where the strike is taking place (are taking part).”
Around 80 percent of permanent farm workers have shunned the strike according to farmers. Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant called on unions to “think carefully about what they are exposing workers to and whether in the end it is worth their while.” “Leaders really need to lead at this time,” she said. At De Doorns, where police and protesting farm workers fought running battles on Wednesday and Thursday, the N1 motorway which links Cape Town and Johannesburg remained shuttered. There was sporadic lighting of tyres, but little sign of the violence of recent days. At least 18 people were arrested on Thursday, bringing the total number of arrests to 62 so far this week.
Indigenous Anti-hydro protests lead to injuries and arrests
Farmers in the districts of La Mesa and Cañazo who clashed with riot police on Wednesday, said that more protests against a hydroelectric project in Veraguas are planned. The farmers said that the protests will be held at the bridge over the San Pablo River. The earlier clashes with riot police left several people injured and arrested. The protests are against the Las Cruces hydroelectric project.
Pablo Miranda, president of the Union of Indigenous People and Peasants of Veraguas, said that the group is not deterred by the actions of the police and said they will return to the streets. Five protesters and two police officers were injured. Larisa Duarte, leader of the Peasant Movement for the Defense of the Cobre River, said that other protests are planned for Santa Fe and San Francisco. Duarte said that the government plans to build several projects in San Jose using water from the Gatu and Santa Maria rivers. Deputy Police Commissioner Carlos Rumbo said that the agency will not allow any road closures.
National Guard Station Burnt During Riot in Town Bordering Libya
Intruders broke into the National Guard station in the eastern border town of Ben Guerdane and set fire to the building yesterday evening. The attack occurred after security forces clashed with rioters in a town that has experienced persistent protests over the closure of the nearby Ras Jedir border crossing.
The Local Labor Union (ULT) led a general strike in Ben Guerdane yesterday as well to protest the lack of regional development as well as the border post’s closure, which has lasted more than two weeks and hurt local traders. The station’s destruction was not related to ULT’s strike, said Khaled Tarrouche, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior. Ammar Mhandi, secretary general of the ULT, stated that the strike ended at noon at which time ULT members returned to the union’s headquarters. During the strike, a peaceful protest, organized by the ULT, was infiltrated by those seeking to take advantage of the situation and foment disorder, said Mhandi, and security agents responded to them with tear gas
. After the ULT ended the strike, clashes ensued between security agents and rioters. Some agents sustained minor injuries due to the use of Molotov cocktails and rocks by a number of rioters, reported Tarrouche. Security forces abandoned the station after their supply of tear gas had finished, he claimed, thereby rendering them unable to control the unrest.
At around 5 p.m., intruders entered the National Guard station and set fire to the premises. Mhandi claimed to later witness some of the intruders putting on security personnel uniforms that they had taken from the station. Tarrouche said that no weapons were missing after the break-in. However, an official from Ben Guerdane’s delegation, who asked to remain anonymous, stated that locals had brought to the office weapons stolen from the National Guard station.
The interior ministry spokesperson expressed his dismay over the attack. “[The National Guard] aims to serve the people not confront them,” he asserted. Reinforcements of army units arrived to Ben Guerdane later that night and are still present. The situation in the town was calm today, and the Ras Jedir border crossing was closed after it had been briefly re-opened yesterday, confirmed a source in the border post’s customs office, who asked to remain unnamed.