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South African strikes not connected to wine industry

South Africa’s Western Cape has been rocked by violent protests by fruit farm workers demanding higher wages but no wine producers appear to be affected at this time.

photo credit: Schalk van Zuydam/AP

The protests began in De Doorns according to local media, but has also spread to the neighbouring vineyard area of Grabouw, with the workers demanding their pay be doubled to about £11 a day.

So far it does not appear that any wine producers’ workers have gone on strike and the action is limited only to the fruit workers picking table grapes, apples and other fruit.

Wines of South Africa has issued a statement saying: “It doesn’t appear the current strike action in the Western Cape is connected to the wine industry but we’re keeping an eye on the situation.

“The South African wine industry, through its support of the Wine and Agricultural Industry Ethical Association (WIETA), and also Fairtrade, is working hard to ensure the ethical treatment of workers. Among the conditions WIETA sets are that workers should have the right to a living wage and to be protected from unfair discrimination.”

The strikes have been on-running since last November, something WOSA addressed in an earlier statement.

Talks between the Agricultural Workers Union and fruit farm owners broke down earlier in the week with a spokesman for the union telling the BBC that they had been met with nothing but “naked racism and white arrogance”.

Last week the Congress of South African Trade Unions called for an international boycott of Western Cape products if the demands were not met.

Yesterday (9 January) violence flared and police fired rubber bullets and tear gas as the protesters threw stones and burnt tyres and cars, including one used by a journalist.

The protest was large, and dangerous, enough to close the main road from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

Some 50 protesters have been arrested so far said police spokesman lieutenant-colonel Andre Taut.

Speaking to Reuters, Agence France Press and the BBC, the strikers have claimed that they cannot live on the current minimum wage of 65 rand a day, saying it was not enough to support their families, buy food and clothing or put their children through school.

One worker, Aubrey Louw, told Reuters that he had worked on farms in the region since the 1970s when the daily wage was 45 rand.

“Now we get 65 rand,” he said, “What is that? We want 150 rand.”

The relationship between South Africa’s, predominantly white, land owners and their black workers since the end of apartheid in 1994 occasionally comes under scrutiny.

In 2011, WOSA released in a statement in response to what it saw as a one-sided report from the Human Rights Watch on worker’s living conditions.

While acknowledging that in some cases workers’ living and working conditions were unacceptable, WOSA stressed that a very large proportion of South African vineyards paid their workers well above the minimum wage, supported children through their schooling and provided decent living and working arrangements.

Wildcat strikes have plagued the country since last year and more are expected this year as well.

In August last year, another violent strike in the Marikana platinum mine in North West province made world headlines when 34 miners were killed by police in the worst such incident since 1994.

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