POLICE and rioting youths fought running battles in the Western Cape farming town of Villiersdorp on Monday, as the agricultural strike in the province entered its second week.
While reports of only sporadic incidents were received from other towns such as De Doorns and Grabouw, the main focus of the labour unrest shifted to the normally sleepy town of Villiersdorp, between Worcester and Paarl.
According to residents of the town, most of the rioting youths were from the Eastern Cape, where unemployment is rife, and some were waiting for the start of the school year on Wednesday.
"They’ve got nothing else to do at the moment," said one of the town’s residents. "Every time they come past a rock or a stone hits my house.
"I expect this to continue the whole night."
The rioting youths burnt down and looted a liquor store and caused damage to homes and the local secondary school. But no reports of casualties were reported by either the police or local residents.
Western Cape Premier Helen Zille had been expected to visit some of the towns hit by the farm workers’ strike. She has said that Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant has the political and legal powers to intervene.
The Department of Labour was scheduled to host the first in a series of public hearings on farm wages on Monday in Grabouw. At least another five such hearings will follow this week, but a schedule has not been released.
Acting department spokesman Mokgadi Pela said a second hearing would be held in Paarl on Tuesday. Hearings had been set down for De Doorns, Robertson, Oudtshoorn and Vredendal for the remainder of the week, but venues were not yet finalised.
The department held a month-long session of public hearings across the country in November and last month following an extended strike by seasonal farm workers in the Western Cape.
The African National Congress issued a statement late last week, which was repeated on Monday, calling for an end to the strike.
Meanwhile, police fired rubber bullets at striking farm workers in De Doorns in the early hours of Monday, said spokesman W/O November Filander.
"The protest in De Doorns erupted at around 3am this morning and police intervened and used rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.
"People were arrested, but I have no further details on the incident. Police will continue to monitor the situation."
W/O Filander said a police officer was injured during a farm workers’ strike in Villiersdorp on Monday. He was struck by stones thrown at a police station.
The injured officer was taken to a local hospital to be treated.
Police arrested 16 people for public violence in De Doorns, nine in Wolseley, 12 in Villiersdorp, and two in Ladismith.
Farm workers in De Doorns want their minimum R69 daily wage increased to R150. The strike began on August 27 last year, but was called off on December 4. It resumed last Wednesday.
Residents of Villiersdorp said they expected the riots to continue for the rest of the week. Shops were closed after strikers threatened to burn them down.
"Most of the shops will be closed for the rest of the week," said a resident who did not want to be named for fear of intimidation. "We are going to have a problem of getting food."
The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) offered to intervene in the strike at the weekend, saying it had the authority, the skills and the experience to mediate a solution.
"We have offered our services, which we are empowered to do in matters of public interest, and trust that the parties will respond positively to our offer," executive director Nerine Kahn said in a statement.
The CCMA said it was in a position to mediate a binding short-term agreement between the workers and the farmers while the parties waited for a sectoral wage determination by the labour department.
More in this section
- Amcu leader says union will ‘bring economy to standstill’
- Business as usual at all operations, says Amplats
- Workers ‘divided’ over how to tackle Amplats’ bid to cut thousands of jobs
- EDITORIAL: Amcu threatens its own position
- Amplats management to meet protesting workers
- The cost of no sweatshops: SA struggles not to be Bangladesh