South Africa: Western Cape Farmworkers Join Strikes

De Doorns — Farm labourers are the latest group to join a wave of strikes across South Africa in recent months as food price increases outstrip the official inflation rate.

The strikers, mainly non-unionized farm workers in the wine and fruit producing province of the Western Cape, are demanding a more than doubling of their day rate to R150 (US$17).

The minimum daily wage established by the ruling ANC government’s labour department for farmworkers is R69 ($7.8).

The official 2012 inflation rate is about 6 percent – a figure generally used as a yardstick for annual pay increases. But recently cooking oil, meat and sugar prices have been rising by an annualized rate of more than 10 percent, according to the latest survey by the University of South Africa’s Bureau of Market Research.

The price of the staple maize meal in 2012 increased by between 41.3- 63.9 percent, according to the survey, which also found that among the country’s poorest households (with annual earnings of up to the equivalent of $6,130) expenditure was 21.4 percent higher than incomes – the gap being bridged by unsecured loans.

The Dust Country informal settlement on the fringes of De Doorns, a rural town 148km east of Cape Town, is at the epicentre of the strike, which has seen vineyards and warehouses torched.

Sean Yanta, a 27-year-old father of three who has been working on a De Doorns farm as a grape picker for the past five years, has to take care of his three children and girlfriend on his income of R69 (US$7.76) per day.

Yanta said he works from 6am to 6pm seven days a week during the picking season, but still struggles to pay for everyday necessities.

“There are a lot of times when there is no food in the house and trying to buy clothes for a young family is very difficult. I would like to work at something else so that I can earn more money, but the only job for most people in this area is farm work,” he told IRIN.

Static wages

Farm labourer Rosemary Filandre, 47, who joined the strike on 5 November, earns R10 (US$1.12) more a day than Yanta at another farm in the area, but the extra income does not go far in the current economic climate, she said.

Despite having worked for her current employers for six years, Filandre said she has never received a pay rise, even though she has sought one on many occasions.

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South Africa: Western Cape Farmworkers Join Strikes