Threats and responses

With the threat of further action by farmworkers and their allies in support of better wages and conditions, not all producers and farmers are acting similarly. There is talk of preparations ranging from what seem to be sensible precaution to somewgat paranoid over-reaction to rumours and suspicions.

At the root of some of the latter seems to be widespread resistance amongst many producers to the idea that there is fundamental objection to the status quo amongst the poorest sectors of the Western Cape’s wine industry, and that this is behind the current wave of unrest. Conspiracy theories abound. And certainly the situation has grown increasingly complex, with more forces involved, since the initial strikes amongst table grape workers in De Doorns.

Some farmers are making plans about how they’ll cope with the challenges expected on 4 December, the expiry of the two week period foolishly held out as promising a solution to the question of the minimum wage by a presumably desperate and certainly ill-prepared and over-eager minister of agriculture.

Some other farmers apparently believe, for some good or bad reason, that their area is to be ”targetted” and invaded even earlier by politically-inspired, bussed-in mobs determined to interrupt their peaceful relationships with their content workers. They are, reportedly, establishing vigilante groups, preparing to seal off the roads and stop those terrifying busloads of outsiders that so many are glibly talking about but apparently never photographing or tracing. Unquestionably, this sort of action will have an intimidatory effect on the workers in these areas.

But I had a satisfactory conversation yesterday evening at Winex in Cape Town with a (first-rate) Stellenbosch wine-farmer and producer, who commented to me regarding my article of a few days back about VinPro petulantly pulling out of Wieta because they don’t like some other organisations there.

On reflection, I’d better not name this person as I didn’t confirm with him that he wouldn’t mind. What he told me was this: the workers on his farm are going to go on strike on the 4th, if it takes place generally, although they agree they have no significant complaint in terms of wages or conditions. This disappoints him, but he understands their wish to act in solidarity with other farmworkers in a worse poition than them. There’s no question of the “intimidation” that is being widely and wildly spoken of – these, at least, are workers choosing freely to take this supportive action.

There is, the producer acknowledges, the fundamental fact that there must inevitably be differences of interest between owners and employees.

One imagines a degree of mutual respect at this farm, however. And that, unlike in some other places, when “normality” is restored, so too will the mutual respect and tolerance. The producer did add, however, that the current wave of unrest is likely to hasten the move to greater mechanisation. Which, if Hortgro (as quoted by me previously) is correct in its interpretation that some of the present problems derive from misery and dissatisfaction amongst the unemployed, does not suggest a longer-term end to strife.

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