‘I’m desperate for better wages’
De Doorns - Onke Zwinye lives in a shack made from four make-shift pillars, flattened cardboard boxes for walls and a sheet of corrugated iron for reinforcement.
Zwinye, 28, is a farmworker. He earns R78 a day, and this week he told Weekend Argus that he was desperate for better wages to improve his home and to allow him to send money to his sister and two brothers in Mthatha.
“I made my own bed with mattresses and a plank, the plank rests on bricks. I don’t even earn enough money to buy myself a decent bed. I don’t have a toilet, I go to the bushes when I need to use the toilet.
“We’ve already been fighting and waiting for a long time. Someone’s died in this fight. We can’t all of a sudden go back to work, because Cosatu said so, without knowing what decisions have been made,” he argued.
Many other strikers concurred that the wage protest action, which this week spread from De Doorns to at least 10 other towns in the region and saw violence flare up in many places, could not just be suspended.
They were reacting to the news that Cosatu, along with unions and NGOs in the agricultural sector, had declared the strike would be suspended pending an “acceptable” outcome of negotiations.
Betty Fortuin, a farmworker from De Doorns, vowed that no one would return to work until they were all assured a minimum wage of R150 a day.
“When you go to the shops they don’t have separate sections or prices for the poor and for the rich. We all have to pay the same prices, and food prices are high. We also want to live a little better,” she said.
Striking workers are also demanding decent working and living conditions, something which is paramount for three Zimbabwean friends who say they “work like slaves” for R65 a day.
Junior Dube, 26, David Mupiwa, 22, and Hardly Mupfudze, 20, said they had all been beaten more than once by a livestock farm owner in the area. “Sometimes he threw rocks at us, slapped us or beat us with a stick,” Mupfudze said.
Dube said the beatings were administered to workers who did not work “fast enough”.
“He once tied a rope around someone and dragged him with his car. Another day he reversed his car towards us at a high speed because he said one of the guys stole his rope. If we didn’t run away he would have knocked us over.”
Mupiwa alleged the farmer had a reputation for pulling his gun on employees.
“You couldn’t hit back, if you did he would threaten to shoot you. I have seen him shoot people before, and all they could do is run.”
Dube added that aside from their working conditions, he and his friends had a duty to participate in the strike if they wanted to send something “more significant” to their families in Zimbabwe.
“If I’m only getting R65 a day how will I manage to send a decent amount home? We need more money also to be able to study and open opportunities for ourselves to do something better than working on farms. That is what this strike is about,” he said.
Some Wolseley protesters, also farmworkers, added to their list of grievances a lack of services, including electricity, water and schools, in the Pinevalley township, along with complaints about foreign-owned shops there.
Almost every foreign-owned shop in Pinevalley was closed on Thursday.
One resident said they didn’t want the shops there:
“They do not employ our people at their shops, and in these very same shops they sell drugs to our children, and that’s why they’ve run,” she said.
However, Kenyan Abdir-izack Ali, whose shop was the only foreign-owned one open late this week, hit back, saying the allegation was “a plain lie”.
“I don’t know any foreigners selling drugs here. The others left because they fear for their safety.
“I had to break the partitioning in my shop to jump out of the window when people wanted to rob my shop , but I still feel safe. I have friends around here and people know me,” he said.
He said that it wasn’t farmworkers looting the shops, but “tik kops”.
“They are taking advantage of the situation. Farmworkers come to my shop and buy from me as you can see. The shop is empty because I’m running out of stock and I can’t go buy more because those taking advantage might burn your van if they see you. Farmworkers are fighting for better pay,” Ali said.
There are however some workers who are happy with their income.
Ironically they include Marelise Brander, the girlfriend of Wolseley farmworker Michael Daniels, who was shot dead during a confrontation between police and protesters while on his way to give Brander her cellphone earlier this week.
Brander said both she and Daniels had been satisfied with their earnings.
“I’m not involved in this strike, neither was Michael. We were both happy with what we’ve got,” she said.