Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has called for an end to the violence in the De Doorns area, where workers are on strike in demand of better pay and working conditions.
She was commenting after being asked by their representatives and unions to escalate their demands to an interministerial meeting to review the minimum wage for the entire agriculture sector.
"The farmworkers' unions said they were willing to abandon the strikes for two weeks until a solution to the wage issue was found," Joemat-Pettersson said in a statement on Tuesday night.
Joemat-Pettersson also called on the labour department to intervene in the strike. "I have no capacity to advise or influence the employment conditions commission," she told SAfm on Wednesday morning.
"That is a matter for the department of labour or the minister of labour. We have done what we could as the department of agriculture and we will continue supporting workers."
She said she had helped "restore relationships" between striking farm workers and farmers. "I think we've [the department] acted as a facilitator to allow that these negotiations and talks stay on track … We cannot afford this sector to lose jobs … that is why we decided to participate in normalising the situation."
Business Day reported on Wednesday that Joemat-Pettersson told workers on Tuesday afternoon she would speak to President Jacob Zuma on their behalf.
"I will tell the president that we cannot ignore the call of the farm workers. From there we will go to the labour minister to discuss sectoral determinations," she was quoted as saying.
Need to improve the situation
Farmworkers in the area went on strike last week. They are asking for R150 per day in wages.
"The farmworker unions demanded that workers should be paid a minimum of R80 per day in wages with immediate effect. The workers were also urged to go to work tomorrow," she said.
Joemat-Pettersson said rising food prices and food insecurity made it impossible for people to live on R70 a day and that intervention was needed to improve the situation.
She said inequality, unemployment and poverty would never be eliminated if vulnerable workers were not paid decent wages and their living conditions were not improved. "The challenge is on us as government to ensure that when we speak of a developmental country we address the triple challenges and how we can eradicate them."
Western Cape police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut said the largest disruptions were in De Doorns, Ceres, Robertson, Prince Alfred Hamlet and Somerset West.
Police had erected roadblocks, detours and barricades in areas for the public's protection.
On Tuesday, a policeman had to be hospitalised after being hit on the head by a stone thrown by a protester. On Monday, 10 people were arrested for public violence and intimidation.
In the Western Cape's Witzenburg municipality, protesting farm workers had caused damaged estimated at R500 000, municipal spokesperson Anette Radjoo said on Tuesday. "Property damage has been sustained including the destruction of a packing shed, veld fires, damage to farming crops, burning of tyres in streets and throwing of stones," she said.
The Transvaal Agricultural Union of SA (Tau-SA) said it had advised its members not to pay workers less than the minimum wage. "The problems of De Doorns cannot be made the problem of the entire agricultural industry," it said.
"We encourage workers to seek work and to accept service where they receive the best salary."
Increasing minimum wages in agriculture would lead to further dismissals, it said.
Meanwhile, the ANC in the Eastern Cape called for the boycott of South African wines on Tuesday.
Eastern Cape ANC spokesperson Mlibo Qoboshiyane said people would be supporting workers' exploitation if they continued buying South African-produced wine.
"Next time people binge on wines from the Western Cape, they must know that they support exploitation of black workers," he said.
Farmworkers in the De Doorns area went on strike a week ago in demand of a R150 daily wage and better working conditions. Qoboshiyane said farmers could afford to pay the workers what they wanted.
"The South African wine industry is making a lot of money locally and internationally; therefore, the wage demands of the workers are realistic and can be met by the employers."
He said Western Cape Premier Helen Zille was failing to back the workers because farm owners were financing the Democratic Alliance — the party she leads.
"The people of the Western Cape deserve a better leader than Zille," he said.
Earlier, Zille wrote a letter to President Jacob Zuma, asking him to intervene in the crisis. – Sapa