Police warn farmworkers ahead of protests

2012-11-29 22:14
(Picture: Johan Cloete, News24 user)

(Picture: Johan Cloete, News24 user)

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Cape Town - Western Cape police are ready for anything protesting farmworkers can throw at them, provincial police commissioner Arno Lamoer said on Thursday.

"From our side, we will ensure the safety of everybody. We will ensure the law is being adhered to," he said at a briefing in Cape Town.

"Those who transgress the law will be charged and will be prosecuted."

Lamoer said the provincial Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Joints) was on alert and ready to deal with any eventuality.

Joints involves the departments of justice, home affairs, and correctional services, and the National Prosecuting Authority.

A coalition of farmworkers and their unions announced on Thursday that they would continue protest action on Tuesday over a wage demand of R150 a day and improved living conditions.

Previous protests by farmworkers this month caused chaos and destruction in 16 towns, including De Doorns, Wolseley and Ceres. Two people were killed and many buildings and vineyards were set alight.

Workers suspended their strike until Tuesday on condition that the employment condition commission (ECC) look at the sectoral determination for agriculture.

However, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant announced this week that it was impossible to meet the deadline. She said the sectoral determination was put in place in March this year and by law, could only be reviewed again in 12 months.

Representatives of both sides have been in negotiations since the strike was suspended.

After Oliphant's announcement, the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) in the Western Cape accused her of undermining these talks and said the news could renew strikes.

Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said that should a strike go ahead, it would most likely lead to violence and death.

"This strike... can set back labour relations on farms by decades and could see a reversal to the low-level civil war we all witnessed on farms a few weeks ago," he said.

Lamoer said on Thursday that intelligence structures were "working on the ground" to gather information for an action plan, with the provincial command centre to assess all information on the day.

He said the public order unit was on standby and would be deployed from Sunday. If needed, police officers would be moved in from other provinces.

All rural areas would be monitored and units deployed as necessary. De Doorns and Wolseley were two hotspots identified.

Senior commanders would be sent to take charge and the air unit would assist with moving officers around.

Disaster management and traffic police would lend a hand where necessary.

Magistrate's courts in the vicinity had been warned of a potential increase in their case-loads and would arrange the court roll on a priority basis.

The commissioner brushed off criticism that the police had been caught unprepared by the first wave of protests.

"What we must understand is that these strikers change their tactics all over, and we learn every day from it," he said.

"This time around there were lessons learned, and we dealt with it, and we will ensure the same thing does not happen again, but we all know they will come with different tactics again."

Lamoer was asked if any order had been made to use live rounds.

"Members know they must use minimum force, but if their lives are in danger, they can go over to the force that will justify [minimising] threats against their lives."

Wolseley resident Michael Daniels, 28, was allegedly shot dead by police two weeks ago during a protest. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate is probing the death.

On Wednesday, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille asked Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to send army troops to help police in rural areas.

She said the troops could play a "peace-keeping role" and make sure no further violence erupted. She said she had approached Lamoer with her request.

The commissioner confirmed receiving a call from Zille, in which she asked him to request the deployment.

"I stated to her very clearly that the SA Police Service resources are good enough to deal with that, and from my side I will not call for the army. It's not my call," he said.

He questioned her use of the term "peace-keeping", and said only the United Nations could call for peace-keeping in war-zones through the African Union.

"We are not a country at war, so there will be no peace-keeping deployment."

He conceded that Zille had perhaps accidentally used the wrong term.

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