De Doorns protests set off political opportunism

The cancer of racism has started to infect the foundations of South Africa’s ruling party. It was just a matter of time that anti-white sentiment expressed by President Jacob Zuma – and echoed by Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson – finally triggered the explosions on the wine and table grape farming areas of the Western Cape.

The Western Cape is a DA-ruled province. The farmers, in the main, are white Afrikaners. The so-called farm workers who have been protesting are now being organised by Cosatu, which had found its collective organising pants down at Marikana but now quickly swept in to create maximum chaos.

Quickly the ANC’s failed mayoral candidate in Cape Town, Tony Ehrenreich, in his capacity as Cosatu regional secretary, fanned the flames of resistance by urging on Monday that it should be stepped up on a national scale. After the national government was embarrassed by this, the coalition of NGOs of which he became struggle chairman on Monday, withdrew the call and pushed for the suspension of hostilities while something was done about the minimum wage sectoral dispensation.

The problem is that the bulk of the protesters are not genuine farm workers at all – many are Lesotho and Zimbabwean exiles who have fled economic black holes at home to such places as De Doorns.

Pieter Dirk Uys, the political satirist, says hypocrisy is the lubricant of politics. There was plenty of it at a media briefing on Wednesday attended by the agriculture minister, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and acting Labour Minister Angie Motshekga, who stood in for Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant who is abroad.

Davies, who is MP for Worcester, De Doorns, Ashton and Wolseley, where a worker was shot dead by police on Wednesday, said that he had visited the area a number of times. He had long known it was a flashpoint, but somehow couldn’t get the message across to his colleagues. It takes a crisis like this to alert the government that there are problems on the ground.

He warbled on about the fact that farm workers didn’t feel that they benefited from the industry. Then Davies, who has just been marketing South African products in Brazil, found himself carrying out verbal acrobatics to explain why he did not support a boycott of wine products called by the ANC in the Eastern Cape. They said they did so in support of raising workers’ pay to decent levels.

The flaw in the argument is that they are not workers. If a little digging was done, one would probably find that many of the farms had good equity ownership systems in place, the bulk of farm workers are housed on farm property – in contrast to the mine workers up north – and were provided basic health, education services and, in many cases, food by the farmers.

Joemat-Pettersson took her cue from the president. She said that there was still a form of colonial apartheid in existence in the Western Cape. Her team of ministers threatened to impose a new minimum wage structure for Western Cape farm workers. That would be illegal, as a wage determination must be implemented nationally.

Meanwhile, the president has told tribal chiefs that they should not buy into the legal practices of “the white man”. At the ANC policy conference in June, he twice spoke about the need to wrench the commanding heights of the economy from the vice-like grip of white males.

It is no wonder the country has descended into a crisis – restricted to mining and farming at this stage – as Joemat-Pettersson put it.

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