A community protest to support the Oak Valley strikers has been met by police violence and threats from ‘Coloured’ workers.
A solidarity protest by residents of Grabouw in support of the striking Oak Valley Estate workers led to closure of the N2 earlier today. The protest by the community, mainly from Siyanyanzela informal settlement, was in its second day, while the Oak Valley strike has entered its eighth day. The workers are demanding a daily wage increase of R88, R250 rather than the R162 they are earning a day. The workers also want an end to labour brokering and the conversion of the single sex hostels into family units.
The protestors clashed with the police after they barricaded the N2 with stones and rubble. According to the statement by the police, they have arrested nine people over the past two days for “incitement to commit violence”.
One of those arrested is CSAAWU’s national organising secretary, Karel Swart. “They said I intimidated the police and I incited violence. They are the ones who created the conditions for violence for the heavy handedness on the protestors. I was not arrested by the Public Order Policing but by the local police who have always taken the side of the farmer,” said the 52-year-old.
Conflict between ‘Africans’ and ‘Coloureds’
As the protestors were moving along Ou Kaapse Way, they were confronted by residents of Pineview who are mostly ‘Coloured’. According to Karel Swart, they threatened the protestors with violence telling them that they could not go to work because of the protest action and that they should stop. “The conduct of some of the residents from the ‘Coloured’ community is concerning. They do not realise that the farmers do not care that they are ‘Coloured’; they exploit them the same way they do to an ‘African’ worker,” he said.
Community leader, Caleb Phula who has been with the workers since the beginning of the strike last week Monday, said that they were threatened in front of the police and instead of the police defusing the situation they told the protestors that they have five minutes to disperse.
By Tuesday afternoon, the situation had cooled and the N2 was re-opened. The protestors and the striking workers met with the South African Human Rights Commission to see if it can mediate a resolution. According to Chris Nissen from the commission, their role is to ensure the situation is stabilised and that the talks between the striking workers and the employer are still open.
According to Swart, they will be having another meeting with the employer on Wednesday to try to find a way forward. Oak Valley Estate had not responded to questions sent to them by the time of publishing.