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Mr Noseyman (Nosey) Pieterse, who emerged as a key figure behind the “strikes”, is mobilising for the next round of the “rural struggle” he claims to lead.

From years of experience, I know that when I am in a political pressure cooker, it is best to allow the heat to subside and some steam to escape before analysing what happened.

The Real Story behind the Western Cape’s Farm Violence

Helen Zille, Leader of the Democratic Alliance (Photo: DA)

At the height of a crisis, when perceptions are sharply polarised, people aren’t prepared to question their pre-conceptions. They only see the “evidence” that supports their prejudices.

The recent “farm strikes” that shook the Western Cape for most of December and January (with a short Christmas break) was a case in point.

Let’s look at what really happened, not because the crisis is behind us, but because we are in a lull between storms. By all accounts, Mr Noseyman (Nosey) Pieterse, who emerged as a key figure behind the “strikes”, is mobilising for the next round of the “rural struggle” he claims to lead. Mr Pieterse wears several hats. He is simultaneously a farmer, the President of an association of BEE farmers in the wine and spirit industry, as well as a trade union leader, organising workers in the industry.

We should, in the weeks ahead, be prepared for the possibility of further rural “strikes”. In this context, it would help to have a better understanding of the crisis from which we have just emerged.

Before I begin, let me be clear: the life of a seasonal farm labourer is a very difficult one. Thousands of poverty stricken people come to the Western Cape from across Southern Africa (particularly Zimbabwe, Lesotho and the Eastern Cape) for the fruit-picking season, desperately seeking work in one of the few remaining sectors that employ unskilled labour. Many of these migrants have remained in the Province permanently and have set up “home” in shack settlements on the outskirts of rural towns. Unemployed for most of the year, they rely on the short fruit-picking season to earn some income, much of which disappears immediately into the coffers of loan sharks on whom they depend to keep their families alive. And as growing numbers of desperate work-seekers arrive, the competition intensifies between them for the shrinking number of jobs available, a result of the consolidation of farms and escalating mechanisation. As tough as it is to survive on the daily minimum wage, it is far tougher to earn nothing at all. And, as happens world-wide in situations of conflict over scarce resources, individuals band together in groups to protect and advance their interests. In divided societies, the fault line between groups is often determined by ethnicity. Here there are four distinct groups of seasonal work-seekers on the Province’s deciduous fruit and grape farms: Zimbabweans, Basotho, amaXhosa and traditional Western Cape farm workers, who would (in terms of the old apartheid designations) have been classified Coloured.

This is fertile ground for exploitation. And so it is easy to see how the dominant (but entirely misleading) narrative arose: “heartless white farmers and labour brokers make ‘super profits’ by using ‘divide-and-rule’ tactics to drive down workers’ wages as their lives deteriorate”.

It is easy to see how this narrative fuelled the anger and rage that led to the destruction of tens of millions of Rands worth of farm infrastructure (packing sheds, cooling stores, tractors, orchards and vineyards) in an orgy of violence lasting several weeks.

And one can discern the ANC’s interest in fuelling this narrative. It was a golden opportunity to drive a wedge between two strong sectors of DA support — farmers and farm workers – while seeking to position the DA on the side of “heartless farmers” and the ANC as the “champion of exploited workers”.

Unsurprisingly, this narrative was parroted by many observers, reinforcing stereotypes and creating conditions conducive to disinvestment and job losses in a sector that is the backbone of the Western Cape’s economy.

Except that the truth was the exact opposite.

I have rarely come across a case study that so graphically illustrates the disjuncture between perception and reality.

Some of the key facts (that explode this narrative) are as follows:

  • The workers’ protests started on a farm called Keurboschkloof, previously a model farm in the Western Cape where workers were paid far above the minimum wage. When the farmer, Pierre Smit, died, his farm was taken over by a Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) consortium that immediately CUT WORKERS’ WAGES from an average of R14.51 to R10.60 per hour.
  • This, understandably, elicited protests by workers, further aggravated by the fact that a former ANC Councillor, who is also a labour broker, tried to bring in “scab labour” at the behest of this BEE consortium to replace the protesting workers.
  • Braam Hanekom (nephew of an ANC Cabinet member) and his organisation “Passop” sought to unionise the workers for the COSATU affiliate, the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU).
  • He was challenged by Nosey Pieterse, a rival unionist, who claimed sole right to organise workers in the area.
  • When the protests spread to the Royal Mushroom Farm and Normandy Farm in mid-October, I was tipped off about an ANC strategy to “bring Marikana to the farms of the Western Cape” – a phrase used repeatedly by the ANC, and particularly Tony Ehrenreich, who combines a role as COSATU provincial general secretary and the ANC caucus leader in the City of Cape Town.
  • And as the protests spread, ANC Western Cape Leader Marius Fransman made his presence felt, announcing “die Boere gaan k.k”, while the Minister of Agriculture, Tina Joemat-Petterrson also visited the area and used inflammatory language.
  • But the one Minister actually responsible for labour matters, Mildred Oliphant, remained abroad for weeks, and did not bother to cut her trip short despite the protest against the minimum wage SHE HAD SET. All the while, the ANC sought to blame the farmers.

So the truth is exactly the opposite of the prevailing narrative

In fact, the best option available for unskilled, seasonal farm workers in South Africa is to secure a job with a farmer like Pierre Smit, who is not a rare exception in the Western Cape. In fact, research by Ben Stanwix of UCT’s Development Policy Unit shows that on average farmers pay significantly higher wages in the Western Cape than other provinces. This is one of the reasons why tens of thousands of desperately poor people leave their homes in far more fertile regions across Southern Africa to seek work on the rocky mountain slopes of De Doorns and other farms in the Western Cape.

The truth also reveals a number of profound ironies

Irony number one: while the ANC was slamming “heartless white farmers”, many of them were actually paying their workers more than the minimum wage that had been set by the ANC Minister of Labour, Mildred Oliphant, in consultation with COSATU.

Irony number two: When the workers went on strike in protest, and the ANC was slamming labour brokers for playing a role in the exploitation of workers, a former ANC councillor, Nelie Barends, who is also a labour broker, tried to provide the BEE farming consortium that took over Keurboschkloof farm with scab labour. In fact, throughout the period that the ANC was slamming labour brokers’ in the Hex River Valley, their own members (including ANC councillor Pat Marran and his wife) were playing a key role as brokers supplying seasonal labour to farms.

Irony number three: as the ANC, Passop, FAWU and Nosey Pieterse claimed to be representing the interest of the workers they were actually at war with each other, a conflict which seriously jeopardised worker interests, causing serious divisions and infighting between different groups of workers, usually divided on an ethnic basis. But they all shared one common goal: to convince workers that their “war” was actually with the farmers. All the while, ANC politicians sought to spread the unrest across the province for their political advantage.

Irony number four: While the ANC accused farmers of fanning xenophobia, it has actually been driven by labour brokers representing differing groups of workers, and exploiting the fault lines caused by ANC policy. While Zimbabweans were legalised through a special amnesty of the Department of Home Affairs (with the support of the farmers), workers from Lesotho were excluded from the amnesty and their employment was deemed illegal and penalised through heavy fines. This meant that thousands of Basotho who had been previously employed, were now unemployed due to ANC policies, while the ANC sought to fan and exploit their anger to spread the unrest.

Irony number five: While the ANC claims to be against labour brokers, it was the farmers, together with the Zimbabwean workers who really fought to get rid of these broker intermediaries. The Zimbabweans, in particular, resisted a consortium or labour brokers (including those with ANC links) who sought to extract from farmers R10 per day for every worker the brokers placed in a job. Zimbabweans wanted to contract directly with farmers, without an intermediary role of labour brokers. This was vehemently opposed by the labour brokers, dominated by ANC public representatives, who were determined to defend the “super profits” they earned from placing workers.

Irony number six: The ANC and its various allied organisations, were happy to drive the conflict between the Basotho, Zimbabweans, and local labour to extend the unrest throughout rural areas, in their attempts to present the Western Cape as being exploitative, racist, and ungovernable.

Why should anyone believe me? Go and read the primary academic research such as Ben Stanwix’s article “Minimum wages and compliance in South African agriculture” as well as a discussion document by Jan Theron (co-ordinator of the Labour and Enterprise Policy Research Group at UCT) titled “Changing employment trends on farms in the Hex and Breede River valleys” and the research paper “Violence, Labour and the Displacement of Zimbabweans in De Doorns, Western Cape” written by Jean Pierre Misago of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Forced Migration Studies Programme that contain some in-depth interviews on this matter (over and above my direct discussions with farm workers and farmers).

There is much priceless information out there if one is prepared to join the dots

The best of all of these is an article titled “Oogsten in Afrika” published in the magazine Quote in October 2012, which quotes Anton de Vries, the Dutch co-founder of the BEE consortium that took over Keurboschkloof farm (that cut worker wages as soon as they took over) saying he had set up a venture to “profit” from land reform. He boasted that it was an official partner of the ANC national government and has contacts in the highest levels, which is its greatest asset.

It is time we woke up and saw what is really happening in our platteland, instead of continuing to bow before the ANC’s warped and deliberately distorted version of events.

The reality is that while most farmers pay significantly higher than the minimum wage they are struggling to make ends meet because of the low return on their product. For example, a “Capturing Gains” research project revealed that when it comes to the final retail price for table grapes from Hex River Valley imported to the United Kingdom, 42% goes to supermarkets, 32% to distributors, while only 18% is retained by the farmers, who must cover all their costs from this return.

Instead, of falling prey to the ANC’s ‘divide-and-rule’ tactics, farmers, farm workers, civil society and government need to work together to address this highly distorted value chain and increase profitability on farms so that the individuals putting in the hard work start reaping the benefits.

By Helen Zille, Leader of the Democratic Alliance – 17 March 2013

The Real Story behind the Western Cape’s Farm Violence


South Africa News

No violent incidents were reported on Tuesday in any of the areas affected by the farmworkers’ strike in the Western Cape, police said.

“In all areas it is quiet. There are small groups of people gathered around but no incidents of violence have taken place this morning,” said Warrant Officer November Filander.

“Our deployment remains the same. We are not going to leave the affected areas.”

On Monday, a police officer was injured in Villiersdorp. He was struck by stones thrown at a police station.

Police arrested 16 people for public violence in De Doorns, nine in Wolseley, 12 in Villiersdorp, and two in Ladysmith.

Workers set tyres alight at the De Doorns police station, but no damage was caused. In Wolseley, the situation was similar; protesters threw stones at police and burned tyres.

The R43 road in Worcester was closed because burning tyres were strewn across it.

Filander said at least 167 people had been arrested since Wednesday. On Monday alone, 42 people were arrested, mainly for public violence.

Farmworkers went on strike last year to demand their daily wage be increased from R69 to R150, and a coherent land reform programme.

The strike was suspended in December, but resumed on Wednesday.

The labour department was holding further public hearings on the review of farmworkers’ minimum wages across the Western Cape from Monday evening.

Public hearings would continue on Tuesday evening in Paarl.

Hearings had been set down for De Doorns, Robertson, Oudtshoorn and Vredendal for the remainder of the week, but venues had yet to be confirmed.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant was expected to make an announcement on the new wage determination in February. This would come into effect from March 1.

SourceNo violence yet as farm strike continues

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[Source: South Africa News]

Click to visit the original postWestern Cape Democratic Alliance leader Ivan Meyer has opened an incitement case against Cosatu’s provincial secretary over a poster put up in the Cape metro.The matter was registered at the Barrack Street police station in central Cape Town on Thursday, Meyer said in a statement.The poster reads: “FEEL IT!!! Western Cape Marikana is here!!!”Meyer said a National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union logo was displayed on the poster above a picture of Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) provincial secretary…

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[Source: South Africa News]

Finally someone realizes the truth: :Agri SA president Johannes Moller considers the Western Cape unrest to be ‘politically motivated’.

Johannes Möller said the Congress of South African Trade Union was just trying to shift the blame by accusing the union of impeding negotiations.

“Personally, I see the strike as politically motivated. There have been no farmworker strikes outside the Western Cape that I know about,” he said.

“It is odd, because we agree that the minimum wage is quite low, and should be increased,” Möller added.

Talk of sanctions being called for against South African fruit was bizarre, as he said farming was already facing a financial and labour crisis.

Möller pointed out that some farmers were investigating turning to nut farming – as this operation was easier to mechanise – or switching to cattle farming, which requires reduced labour.

Bagraim: ‘What is going down is politics’

“I think what is going down is politics. It is not actually the conditions and earnings on the farms. Many farmers are close to a settlement with their workers and 95% of grape farmers have already signed wage agreements,” said Michael Bagraim, a labour analyst for the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce who is representing 20 farmers in the province.

“Most of them are paying R100 to R150 to even R200 a day. Everyone agrees that the current minimum wage is not acceptable.”

Bagraim has been assisting farmers with wage agreements and negotiating terms of employment, housing and benefits for them.

Some farmers were talking about turning to farming ventures that will allow mechanism or lower staffing levels, he said, while others were considering moves to other countries in Africa with more favourable agricultural and labour conditions.

And Bagraim said not all his clients want to continue farming, as it is currently not a profitable business.

So violent was the farmworkers’ strike – that began in November last year and continued into December – that one farmer is taking the insurance money he got paid out after his farm was burnt and vandalised, and quitting farming.

‘Wrong politics in the Western Cape’

Two of his clients are emerging black farmers, who cannot afford to hire security companies to protect them during strikes. They also cannot afford to pay the farm workers the R150 a day they are demanding, which is more than double the government’s prescribed minimum wage.

Although Bagraim said he was not entirely sure why the farmworker strikes should be mostly Western Cape-based, he said there were factors that could be at play. “One factor is that there could be ‘wrong politics’ here in the Western Cape, with the Democratic Alliance in charge and not the African National Congress,” he said.

While the government is set to adjust the minimum daily wage for farmworkers of R69.39 from April 1, farmworker Deneco Dube – who works on a fruit farm in Robertson – told the Mail & Guardian the workers could not wait any longer for improvements to their impoverished…

Read More…
[Source: South Africa News]

Finally someone realizes the truth: :Agri SA president Johannes Moller considers the Western Cape unrest to be ‘politically motivated’.

Johannes Möller said the Congress of South African Trade Union was just trying to shift the blame by accusing the union of impeding negotiations.

“Personally, I see the strike as politically motivated. There have been no farmworker strikes outside the Western Cape that I know about,” he said.

“It is odd, because we agree that the minimum wage is quite low, and should be increased,” Möller added.

Talk of sanctions being called for against South African fruit was bizarre, as he said farming was already facing a financial and labour crisis.

Möller pointed out that some farmers were investigating turning to nut farming – as this operation was easier to mechanise – or switching to cattle farming, which requires reduced labour.

Bagraim: ‘What is going down is politics’

“I think what is going down is politics. It is not actually the conditions and earnings on the farms. Many farmers are close to a settlement with their workers and 95% of grape farmers have already signed wage agreements,” said Michael Bagraim, a labour analyst for the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce who is representing 20 farmers in the province.

“Most of them are paying R100 to R150 to even R200 a day. Everyone agrees that the current minimum wage is not acceptable.”

Bagraim has been assisting farmers with wage agreements and negotiating terms of employment, housing and benefits for them.

Some farmers were talking about turning to farming ventures that will allow mechanism or lower staffing levels, he said, while others were considering moves to other countries in Africa with more favourable agricultural and labour conditions.

And Bagraim said not all his clients want to continue farming, as it is currently not a profitable business.

So violent was the farmworkers’ strike – that began in November last year and continued into December – that one farmer is taking the insurance money he got paid out after his farm was burnt and vandalised, and quitting farming.

‘Wrong politics in the Western Cape’

Two of his clients are emerging black farmers, who cannot afford to hire security companies to protect them during strikes. They also cannot afford to pay the farm workers the R150 a day they are demanding, which is more than double the government’s prescribed minimum wage.

Although Bagraim said he was not entirely sure why the farmworker strikes should be mostly Western Cape-based, he said there were factors that could be at play. “One factor is that there could be ‘wrong politics’ here in the Western Cape, with the Democratic Alliance in charge and not the African National Congress,” he said.

While the government is set to adjust the minimum daily wage for farmworkers of R69.39 from April 1, farmworker Deneco Dube – who works on a fruit farm in Robertson – told the Mail & Guardian the workers could not wait any longer for improvements to their impoverished…

Read More…
[Source: South Africa News]

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