COSATU refused yesterday to heed a call by the ANC in the Western Cape to end the violent strike by farm workers. Instead, the trade union federation – and partner in the tripartite alliance – called on President Jacob Zuma to intervene before "anarchy is unleashed".
The union has also called for the naming and shaming and an international boycott of "bad farmers".
On Friday, ANC provincial leader Marius Fransman asked Cosatu and other unions to facilitate a halt to the strike.
Fransman was particularly concerned about "unwanted criminal elements" using the strike to loot shops.
He was also worried about the "presence of large numbers of seemingly imported mercenaries and militia disguised as so- called farm security".
Meanwhile, there are fears the strike could move to Eastern Cape farms, which use a large number of casual labourers.
Bedford farmer and Agri Eastern Cape president Ernest Pringle said there was definitely a danger of this happening.
"It is a risk [for farms] with a large proportion of casual labour, used over periods of time for picking or harvesting.
"Our members have been provided with detailed instructions on what is required by law regarding strikes, particularly illegal strikes like this and how to deal with them."
Pringle said the instructions included how to protect their property and get the police to take action.
Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said the strike that has plagued the Western Cape since last year was not political and Cosatu was merely "facilitating talks".
"This strike can only be called off by workers, and they have said it will continue until a living wage is paid," Ehrenreich said yesterday.
The strikes were expected to continue today.
Farm workers went on strike last year in demand of an increase in their daily wage from R69 to R150, and a coherent land reform programme.
The strike was suspended in December, but resumed on Wednesday.
During the often-violent strike, farm workers have barricaded roads, stoned motorists and burnt property belonging to the farms.
Ehrenreich said some farmers, especially the owners of bigger commercial farms, were willing to increase wages to more than R100 a day, but the "bad farmers" were opposing this. The strike would be suspended for the "good farmers" if an agreement was reached.
The government would also be asked to assist these farmers with subsidies.
For the "bad farmers", the union would urge:
- An international economic boycott;
- Retailers in South Africa to not sell their produce, or the Government Employees Fund to invest their money elsewhere; and
- Members working at harbours to not handle their farm produce.
"The bad farmers who want to continue paying slave wages of R69 a day should get no support and these farms should be pushed into closure," Ehrenreich said.
Meanwhile, police said the situation was quiet yesterday, with no violent protests reported.
"We are still keeping a huge police presence in all the affected areas to monitor the situation," Warrant Officer November Filander said.
A total of 125 people have been arrested since the beginning of the strike, mainly for public violence. – Additional reporting by Prudence Mini, Sapa