Colère des ouvriers agricoles en Afrique du Sud
Les ouvriers agricoles en grève en Afrique du Sud ont mis le feu à plus de 30 hectares de vignes pour protester contre ce qu’ils appellent les « salaires de famine ». Six personnes ont été arrêtées pour violence publique, et le propriétaire d’une ferme a été arrêté pour tentative d’assassinat après avoir tiré sur des milliers de manifestants lorsque la violence a éclaté lundi. « Les salaires ici sont trop petits, R72 (£ 5) par jour. Vous ne pouvez rien acheter avec cet argent » déclare Shaun Janca, le dirigeant de la grève, au téléphone depuis Doorns, dans la vallée de la rivière Hex. «Vous devez parler aux propriétaires terriens. » dit-il en afrikaans.
« L’argent qu’ils nous paient ce n’est rien. Nous travaillons toute notre vie mais nous n’avons rien. Pour quoi travaillons-nous ? Pour quoi ? ». La grève a commencé le 30 octobre quand les ouvriers agricoles ont cessé le travail et remis un mémorandum au gouvernement du Cap occidental exigeant des salaires plus élevés, ont-ils dit. Mais ils ajoutent que le gouvernement n’a commencé à faire attention aux revendications que quand les vignes ont commencé à brûler. «Les travailleurs étaient en colère après certaines observations formulées par le ministère de l’Agriculture du Cap-Occidental», a déclaré Braam Hanekom, président de People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (Passop), qui participent aux négociations entre propriétaires terriens et travailleurs.
« Ils prétendent que les revendications des travailleurs ne sont pas claires, mais les travailleurs ont dit qu’ils avaient déjà remit un mémorandum il y a une semaine lorsque la grève a débuté jeudi dernier. Les gens ont faim, ils sont frustrés et ils sont fatigués. Ils veulent travailler, mais ils veulent voir une certaine amélioration de leurs conditions de travail », a déclaré Hanekom. Une paix fragile a depuis descendu dans la région de la Commission de conciliation, de médiation et d’arbitrage arbitre entre les grévistes et leurs employeurs.
Presse esclavagiste (The Guardian, 8 novembre 2012) via Solidarité ouvrière
South Africa: striking workers burn vineyards in protest over ‘hunger wages’
Striking farm workers in South Africa’s biggest table grape-growing region set fire to more than 30 hectares of vineyards to protest against what they call « hunger wages ».
Six people were arrested for public violence, and a farm owner was arrested for attempted murder after firing on thousands of protestors when violence broke out on Monday.
« The wages here are too small, R72 (£5) a day. You cannot buy anything with that money, » strike leader Shaun Janca told Daily Maverick on the phone from De Doorns, in the Hex River Valley.
« You must talk to the farmers. » he said in Afrikaans. « The money that they pay us is nothing. We work our whole lives but still we have nothing. We are working for what? For what? »
The strike started on 30 October when farm labourers stopped work and delivered a memorandum to the Western Cape government demanding higher wages, they said. But they claim the government only paid attention when the vineyards started to burn.
« The workers were very unhappy about some of the comments made by the MEC of Agriculture of the Western Cape, » said Braam Hanekom, chairman of People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (Passop), which is part of the negotiations between farmers and workers. « He said the workers’ demands were unclear, but the workers said they had already handed him a memorandum a week ago when the strike started last Thursday.
« People are hungry, they are frustrated and they are tired. They want to work but they want to see some improvement in their working conditions, » Hanekom said.
A fragile peace has since descended in the region as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration arbitrates between strikers and their employers.
Gerrit van Rensburg, the Western Cape Agriculture minister, speculated that a « third force » was behind the violence. « I am quite sure that it is not the farm workers involved in this strike, its people from Stofland (an informal settlement with a high population of migrant workers) and other areas. I am sure there is a political motive to this strike as well because nobody wants to take responsibility for the strike, and no one wants to come forward and speak to us, » he said.
The ANC used the opportunity to criticise the Western Cape, which is run by the opposition Democratic Alliance. Business Day reported that Marius Fransman, the ANC’s provincial leader, accused Van Rensburg of supporting farmers and « not the disgruntled farm workers, and calling in helicopters for reinforcements to fight unarmed labourers ».
« It is shocking that one of the most affluent and financially viable produce areas in our country are paying farm workers a pittance; Workers seem not to share in the profits there for decades now and the situation became untenable, » Fransman said. « Some time ago, the ANC again raised the importance of farmers and organised agriculture to stop discriminating against these workers. In this area, farm workers still feel the brunt of Apartheid abuse on farms, » he said, and added that it was « completely unacceptable that these things go on unchecked ». (He did not mention that the conditions of mine labourers in ANC-owned regions such as the North West.)
« The labourers are working for a minimum wage of R69.39 per day. Per week it is R346.95 a week and the workers can’t work for that amount. They say it is a ‘hunger wage’, activist and local labour advisor Petrus Brink said.
« The poor people and the workers are getting poorer. They can’t support their families and can’t take care of their children. That is why they are becoming so aggressive, because the R346.95 is not even enough for them to survive for a week, » Brink said over the phone from the offices of the Surplus People’s Project in Citrusdal, where he consults on labour issues.
« What the workers demand at De Doorns is for the commercial farmers who are producing for the export market to pay them more. They are demanding R150 per day, » Brink added. He said many of the workers come in to do seasonal work from areas such as the Eastern Cape, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and even Somalia. « This creates a condition where permanent workers feel that their employment is under threat — that they might lose their permanent jobs.
The labourers point out that the table grapes and citrus farmed in the area are intended for the export market. « The farmers make large sums of profit, but then there is no return for the workers. The farm owners reason they don’t have to bargain for farm labour because there is already a pool of cheap labour, and so if the permanent workers from the Western Cape don’t want to work for that amount, the farmers do have access to another labour market, » Brink said.
Workers from outside of South Africa often don’t have permits or passports, which enables some unscrupulous farmers to exploit the vulnerable migrant labour force. This in turn creates xenophobia because the local labour market feels threatened and under pressure.
With a cheaper migrant labour force prepared to live in squatter camps, farmers have been less inclined to offer housing, education or other social amenities. A report issued by Human Rights Watch in August 2011 Ripe with Abuse detailed a litany of rights abuses practiced by some local farmers.
The report documented evidence of housing on farms unfit for living; labourers being exposed to fertilisers and pesticides without the proper safety equipment; a lack of access to water while working in dehydrating conditions; the lack of toilet facilities for workers; and the undue pressure put on workers to stop them from joining unions. It also detailed threats of evictions made against residents who had stayed on farms for long periods of time.
« The wealth and well-being these workers produce shouldn’t be rooted in human misery, » Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said when the report was released. « The government and the industries and farmers themselves, need to do a lot more to protect people who live and work on farms. »
The Western Cape government has known about simmering tensions at places such as De Doorns for a long time. « There is a lot of tension, but this isn’t the first time. There is a lack of government (political will), » Brink said. « We have made many presentations in the portfolio committee (for Rural Development and Land Reform) in parliament in Cape Town. We presented this to the portfolio committee that the housing conditions are very bad. Farm owners are paying the minimum wage and you can’t even take the minimum wage and upgrade your own home. We had these presentations and we also worked with Human Rights Watch. »
Brink and the NGOs asked the Rural Development and Land Reform committee to get members to visit local farms because farm owner representatives had said the activists were lying about the conditions there.
« The members of the committee came and they filed their report and said what they saw was shocking. They closed two of the farms and demanded that farms upgrade housing and revise labour practices, » Brink said.
That was more than a year ago.
Presse esclavagiste (Mandy de Waal for Daily Maverick / guardian.co.uk, 8 novembre 2012)