CAPE TOWN (AFP) – South African farmworkers on strike for better wages are looting shops and have blockaded streets with burning tyres, police said Friday, after a day of anger that led to 42 arrests.
“This morning we responded to acts of unrest in Swellendam where protesters looted shops and caused public disturbance,” said Western Cape Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut.u
“The situation is still tense in several towns, the protesters are using burning tyres to block main roads. They are regrouping,” he said.
Trout said 42 people were arrested for violence on Thursday, as protests spread to several farms in this mountainous region. Three police vehicles were torched during clashes, he added.
Unrest has gripped the small fruit-growing towns of Swellendam, Ceres, Wolseley and De Doorns — not far from Cape Town — in unprecedented protests that have left one worker dead.
The workers, who want daily wages increases from 70 rand ($8) to 150 rand, have spurned a call by government and unions to return to work while negotiations continue.
The unrest started a week ago in De Doorns, a grape farming town outside Cape Town, where vineyards were set alight.
On Wednesday, a 28-year-old man was shot and killed in nearby Wolseley and five others wounded during clashes with police, in scenes reminiscent of the recent mining unrest that has claimed more than 50 lives.
South Africa’s agricultural sector attracts migrant labour from impoverished corners of the country and neighbouring states, and the sector labelled as one of the most exploitative.
The agricultural trade association South Africa, Agri SA, has raised concern at the strike, urging “all parties work together to restore business confidence… and South Africa’s image as a reliable supplier of high quality products to international markets”.