The Western Cape farming town that was last week torn apart by racial violence between coloureds and Africans owes its burgeoning population to farmers who truck in labour from villages in the Eastern Cape.

Fruit farmers in the cluster of Grabouw, Elgin and Villiersdorp, about 100km from Cape Town, recruit about 3000 men and women in January and February every year from the villages.

The casual workers are transported to the fruit farms where they are housed in hostels for the harvesting season.

When the season ends, in May, many migrant workers decide not to return home and set up house in informal settlements.

But, in the following season, farmers in the area say, the newly settled migrants look for better paid and easier work than farm labour, which means the farmers have to begin the recruitment cycle afresh each year.

James Rawbone-Viljoen, who serves on the council of the Elgin, Grabouw, Vyeboom and Villiersdorp Farmers Association, said it contracted with labour brokers who brought people from the Eastern Cape during the harvesting season to live on the farms.

"We provide them with transport and pay their fare from there and back home. But in the end, when people leave, who knows where they go? I have no doubt many stay," he said.

Mr Rawbone-Viljoen said after the seasonal workers settled in the towns, "they are not really willing to work on farms".

"So we have got to start again every year and fetch labour from the Eastern Cape."

Imvusa Recruitment, a labour broking company operating from Grabouw, reports the same trend. "Every year there are new people here. People who have worked on the farms for a year, then look for better work in the packing sheds," says Imvusa manager Estelle Williams.

"They realise they can earn more, so they go to the orchards for just one year."

The 2001 census put the population of Grabouw at 21500. Municipal authorities said the town now had more than 50000 residents.

patonc@bdfm.co.za