Police have confirmed to the Mail & Guardian that a 28-year old man has died, and five people have been injured, during an “incident” in Wolseley related to labour unrest among farm workers in the Western Cape.
This comes just hours after government and labour agreed to suspend the strike for two weeks, and for workers to return to work on Thursday.
The circumstances of the man’s death are unclear. Police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Andrè Traut said the matter is now the subject of an investigation conducted by Independent Police Investigative Directorate. “The [South African Police Service] will not be in a position to divulge the finer details of the case,” he said.
Traut admitted that while every endeavour was being made to maintain law and order, the SAPS’s response time is “compromised and affected by the situation”.
Avoiding a Marikana situation
Trade union federation Cosatu, is expected to hold a press conference on the labour dispute later on Wednesday afternoon. The union said it had become involved in the strike, at the invitation of the workers, most of whom are not union members.
“The unions are trying to avoid a Marikana situation where workers act without guidance from unions, and resolutions are not found in negotiations,” it said in a statement.
Grape harvesters in the Hex River Valley had been protesting for over a week, demanding R150 a day. Most labourers earn between R69 and R75 a day, with R80 being the highest from farmers so far.
The unrest has spread to De Doorns, Ceres, Robertson, Prince Alfred Hamlet and Somerset West. Residents set tyres alight in the De Doorns informal settlement, and a road leading into Stofland was blocked by a heap of burning tyres on Wednesday morning. At Prince Alfred Hamlet in the Overberg, police fired rubber bullets at a group of about 70 farmworkers who pelted them with stones.
Joint Operations briefs Premier
Western Cape Premier Helen Zille was earlier briefed on the situation at the Joint Operations Centre.
Over the past few hours, the premier has been tweeting updates on the situation. Earlier on Wednesday she tweeted that she had received information that busses had arrived in Wolesley from Cape Town “to stoke the strike there”.
Zille said she has been in contact with both the provincial and national police commissioners calling for the defence force to be deployed, as police were “stretched thin”.
There had been “no reply” to an urgent letter sent to President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday night, and his office had not returned her call, she said.
Meanwhile, Afriforum has joined the call for intervention in the labour unrest. AfriForum's Deputy CEO, Ernst Roets described the situation at De Doorns as a result of dubious political leadership.
"We expect [Police Minister Nathi] Mthethwa to personally visit the scene and to ensure that the transgressors are prosecuted successfully," Roets said.
But presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj said there was no need for such a call to be made to the president. Authorisation had been issued in September, in the wake of the Marikana killings, for the SANDF to support the SAPS at its request. This mandate was valid until the end of January, he said.
Maharaj said ministers of agriculture and labor, and the premier of the province, working in cooperation, need to address the substantive issues underlying the unrest in order to find a sustainable solution.
“Insofar as [the unrest] affects law and order, the authorisation is there for the army to assist the police,” he said, adding that the premier was entitled to call for such assistance. – Additional reporting by Sapa