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Mon Dec 22 14:45:14 SAST 2014

Protests' first casualty

QUINTON MTYALA | 15 November, 2012 00:39
A public order policeman confronts some of the protesters in Wolseley near Ceres, Western Cape, after protests turned violent and claimed the life of a resident Wednesday November 14. File photo.
Image by: Halden Krog

Anger over the death of a farmworker in Wolseley could prolong a violent strike over better wages that has gripped the Western Cape for the past two weeks despite politicians and unionists calling for a halt.

Yesterday, violence spread to the towns of Porterville, Saron and Wolseley where Michael Daniels, 27, was allegedly shot by police.

According to several eyewitnesses, the local police had been caught flat-footed as mobs went through Wolsley, smashing windows and overturning vehicles, including a police van.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille yesterday called on President Jacob Zuma to deploy the army to the towns that had been affected by the violence from wage strikes.

The strikes initially started in De Doorns in September, prompted by a dispute on the Keurboschkloof farm after the new owners of the farm started paying workers the prescribed minimum wage of R70 a day as set by Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant. Previously they were paid up to R127 a day.

Within two months, strikes had spread, accompanied by violent protests which saw the N1 passing through De Doorns barricaded several times by farmworkers.

Yesterday, Wolseley resembled a ghost town, with all but one shop closed. Rubble from an unfinished road construction project lay strewn across the entrance to the town and makeshift barricades blocked some streets.

Four police officers, armed with shotguns, guarded a petrol station, forced shut by the unrest in the morning.

At the Wolseley police station, the community of Pine Valley - a smattering of low-cost housing - were baying for blood after the death of Daniels.

According to several residents, he had been shot five times although the circumstances of his death are in dispute.

His girlfriend, Marlize Brander, standing outside the police station, said he had been on his way to her to drop off a cellphone when he was caught up in the violence.

"We have an eight-year-old daughter and were planning to get married later. He was not part of the protest," insisted Brander.

Standing on a chair in front of the police station, with his bodyguard keeping watch, community safety MEC Dan Plato tried to calm down a crowd of about 200 people who were enraged over Daniels' death.

But all that Plato received was irate responses interspersed with invectives.

Soon he was off his chair and Boland ANC chairman Pat Maraan addressed the crowd, calling for calm and promising Daniels' death would be investigated.

Maraan said that while it had been agreed that farmworkers would go back to work today as they awaited a response from Oliphant to the workers' demands, the death of Daniels could negatively affect the call.

Later, farmworkers marched back to Pine Valley to gather more protesters who had stayed behind. But as they attempted to return to the town centre, they were confronted by public order police in two Nyalas who blocked their path over a bridge.

With protesters refusing to disband and continuing their march, a stun grenade was fired into the crowd of about 100 men and women. Police officers fired rubber bullets into the crowd.

While others stood up, one man remained rooted to the road surface, wincing in agony as he showed journalists where he had been shot in the arm. Soon, he was arrested and bundled into a waiting police van with several other protesters.

Zille has called on ANC provincial leader Marius Fransman to remove politics from the labour dispute and urged him to repudiate some of the "incitement" Cosatu had spread by earlier describing the protests as "Marikana comes to the farms".

CAPE TOWN STRIKE DEAL STRUCK

A DEAL to suspend the strike was announced in Cape Town yesterday.

In terms of the deal, Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant, who is overseas, will publish a notice in the Government Gazette next week cancelling the existing sectoral determination that sets the minimum wage for farmworkers at R70 a day.

Announcing the deal, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, flanked by acting Labour Minister Angie Motshekga and her trade and industry counterpart Rob Davies, said the Employment Conditions Commission would meet next week to decide on the basic level of pay for Western Cape farmworkers.

Joemat-Pettersson said she was not certain if the proposed increase would apply only to farmworkers in Western Cape or throughout the country.

She would not be drawn on what she felt would be an acceptable wage for farmworkers.

"Whatever level is acceptable would be recommended by the [commission]," she said.

"We should not jump the gun and discuss if this should be just for Western Cape." - Quinton Mtyala and Thabo Mokone

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