Workers accuse police, farmers of brutality

2013-01-17 17:44
Striking farmworkers (Picture: AFP)

Striking farmworkers (Picture: AFP)

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Cape Town - The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is investigating at least 20 complaints of brutality against striking Western Cape farmworkers, it said on Thursday.

"At the last count, it was 20 complaints, but we're still counting the most recent ones. The complaints are against the police, farmers and private security," SAHRC spokesperson Isaac Mangena said.

He said workers had reported cases of police brutality, racism and inhumane living and working conditions.

SAHRC officials were visiting the affected areas, including De Doorns, to gather information on the cases and help the community lodge complaints.

On Monday, spaza shop worker Letsekang Tlokoane, 25, died when he was allegedly shot with rubber bullets in De Doorns.

The same day, a 10-year-old girl was apparently shot in the eye with a rubber bullet.

Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) spokesperson Moses Dlamini said he had received from the SAHRC numerous cases involving the police, mostly of assault and the use of rubber bullets at close range.

Farmworkers went on strike last year to demand that their daily wage be increased from R69 to R150, and that a coherent land reform programme be implemented. The strike was suspended in December, but resumed last Wednesday in various towns in the province.

The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) announced a week-long suspension of the strike on Tuesday, on condition that Agri SA honour commitments to "local-level" agreements and agree to stop the victimisation of workers.

Both Cosatu's Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich and Agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg said a large number of farmworkers were back at work on Thursday.

However, the Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry (Bawsi) said the strike was still on.

"The strike will continue across the province until there is an agreement for better wages and worker protection," said Nosey Pieterse, Bawsi president and general secretary of the Building and Allied Workers' Union of SA.

Pieterse said he represented thousands of striking workers who did not belong to unions.

Minority of workers unionised

The agriculture department estimated the number of permanent and seasonal workers in the province at around 200 000.

Of these, only 5% were unionised, Ehrenreich said.

Despite this figure, he said Cosatu had more influence in the strike than Bawsi did.

"Cosatu is a national organisation with incredible influence and power, with alarming strength. This is not a competition though. We want to work with smaller organisations. Bawsi is a small organisation with significant influence."

At least 180 people had been arrested in connection with the protests since Wednesday last week, mostly for public violence.

Western Cape police spokesperson Andre Traut said marching workers in De Doorns were being monitored on Thursday afternoon.

"No incidents of violence have been reported as yet," he said.

- SAPA
Read more on:    sahrc  |  ipid  |  cosatu  |  tony ehrenreich  |  gerrit van rensburg  |  cape town  |  farmworker protests
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