Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Zille Calls on Zuma To Intervene in De Doorns

November 13, 2012.

Johannesburg - Western Cape Premier Helen Zille had asked President Jacob Zuma to intervene in the De Doorns farmworkers' wage dispute, her office said on Tuesday.

“The consequences of the current crisis will be very severe for the Western Cape and South Africa as a whole if they are not immediately addressed,” Zille wrote in a letter to Zuma.

She asked him to delegate Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant to address the situation.

Zille also called on the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) to take part in the discussions without inciting intimidation.

“It is nothing short of a disgrace that a formal Cosatu statement announced ‘Marikana has come to the farms’.”

On Wednesday, Cosatu’s Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich said talks had to find a way for workers to get decent wages, and to end “the atrocious living conditions of workers on farms and in the informal areas”.

“The ill treatment and under-payment of workers by some farmers must stop, otherwise we will see a Marikana in De Doorns,” he said.

Farmworkers in the area started protesting last week in demand of a R150-a-day wage and better working conditions.

On Tuesday, a policeman had to be hospitalised after being hit on the head by a stone thrown by protesters. On Monday, 10 people were arrested for public violence and intimidation.

The Freedom Front Plus has also criticised Cosatu for making statements calling for violence.

FFPlus spokesperson Pieter Groenewald said on Tuesday it would ask the South African Human Rights Commission to investigate the “correctness” of statements attributed to Ehrenreich.

According to Groenewald, Ehrenreich allegedly told farmers: “There is already blood on the farmworkers and unless it stops there will be blood on the farmers of these farms.

“We will grab the land and give it to the rightful owners... We are here today to declare war. We are against violence, but if this is what it takes to force a bad farmer in a direction, then they should be smashed in that direction.”

Groenewald said Ehrenreich apparently then told farmers that those who treated workers like dogs should be beaten until they stopped.

On Tuesday, Witzenburg municipality officials said protesting farmworkers had caused damage estimated at R500 000. “Property damage has been sustained including the destruction of a packing shed, veld fires, damage to farming crops, burning of tyres in streets and throwing of stones,” said municipal spokesperson Anette Radjoo.

Comment: Just days ago Helen Zille's Democratic Party (DP) and a coalition of smaller parties in parliament motioned a vote of no confidence in President Zuma.

Now she is calling on Zuma to step in and defuse an entangled conflict over poor working conditions and slave-like wages for farmworkers in her province.

Farmworkers earn an average of R75 a day, that is $8.53 US.  This is a shocking state of affairs made worse by the fact that a large proportion of black/coloured workers live on the farms where they work and have rent and utilities (electricity) deducted from their paychecks.

A loaf of bread costs an average of R10.  A liter of milk is roughly about the same.  How is anyone expected to feed a family and secure its future on R75 a day?

A couple nights ago a female farmworker was on television explaining that after deductions she has almost nothing left to feed her family and pay for schooling for her children.

This is a terrible situation of exploitation that has long racialized roots.  It is made worse by the fact that Helen Zille is loath to point to the racism that keeps black/coloured farmworkers in such abject working conditions.

If you are thinking modern day slavery you are not too far from being right.  Yet some whites will go to pains to explain that race/racism is not part of the equation.   

See for example my ongoing disagreement with a self-styled 'left anarchist' author at Countercurrents who wants folks of color to forget the 'false consciousness' of race so he and his comrades in Seattle can lead us to post-capitalist nirvana.  Folks who think like this are a large part of the problem and engaging them in any form of struggle is just a waste of time.  For the most part they are hardly different than the virulent racists who do not hide their white interests under fanciful anti-racist and/or materialist theories.

The ruling party has to accept a large part of the blame for what is wrong in this situation but it is somewhat disingenuous on behalf of the DP to want to unseat the ANC yet they prove utterly useless when it comes to handling and diffusing such race-laden conflicts.

But then again this is exactly why the white-dominated liberal party of Helen Zille is not an alternative to the ANC.  The truth is they are simply out of touch with the lives of the majority who suffer conditions that equate with the worst of apartheid.

At the center of the conflict in De Doorns is capitalist exploitation and its ideological mindset is framed by white racism and its structural history.

Two decades into the post era it is not too hard to find that the white capital and industry barons that still run South Africa alongside a small comprodore class of black ANC-aligned sellouts are in the usual business of racist exploitation for profits.

If you read the comments below the article above you will find hoards of white racists who are unable/unwilling to appreciate the depths of suffering experienced by the impoverished black masses.

For too many whites the conditions that blacks suffer is a matter of poor governance by the ANC.

You will even find whites who blame the ANC for the working conditions of black farmworkers in De Doorns!

These folks are out of touch and typically racist.  In their terms they see themselves as the victims of black greed and a government that is corrupt.

And in so doing they conveniently disentangle themselves from taking responsibility for apartheid and its fallout if even in a small humane gesture to the impoverished masses.

How does anyone in South Africa expect a black/coloured farmworker in De Doorns to work for R75 a day in a multi-million dollar industry that is essentially enslaving its workers?

This is an untenable situation that must change.

And we are not free.


Update (November 14): See M&G article " Western Cape farm workers suspend protests" here.


Pstonie said...

[reposting this as my comments usually disappear when I forget to enable javascript]

Never in my life will I take responsibility for apartheid. Why? I didn't do it. All my generation ever got from it is affirmative action.

I do note though that divide and conquer is once again being unimaginatively employed to destabilise the country.

On the subject of zille, I noted a clip on the news about her saying only the president could authorise the mobilisation of the SANDF to deal with the situation. I think democracy is a cruel joke and even I know you can't do that. She must be hoping for zuma to take the hint and step on his dick.

Ridwan said...

Hi Pstonie:

Thank you for your comment.

I think it is necessary for whites to recognize the evil of apartheid and is structural legacy.

You are right that your generation did not carry out the evil but you are wrong when you assume that your position now is not related to that structural history.

Mine is too. As someone race classified as Cape Malay I was exempted from the racist treatment that someone of my generation who was classified "Bantu/African" experienced.

I may have faced discrimination but it was nowhere near the scale of what Africans faced.

It is a fact of history. Even today I derive privileges from my past - we live in a more developed neighborhood and structurally my life and those of my racial generation are better off than my counterparts who grew up with "Bantu/African" classification.

It is still a fact that must be recognized by me and mine when we think of our place in South Africa.

Taking responsibility does not mean taking on guilt.

It means recognizing that the past created the ugliness that is De Doorns or the conditions of impoverishment in squatter camps, for example.

Taking responsibility does not mean that whites of any generation should not be affronted by the decline of living standards in South Africa.

All South Africans should be affronted - we deserve better.

But taking responsibility does mean that thinking whites should refrain from posting nasty and racist comments at News24 that characterize the suffering of black/brown farmworkers as over-blown and their own fault.

I have read a lot of those comments and they are vile and disingenuous.

All South Africans are in fact paying for the sins/evil of apartheid.

Millions of black/brown folks did not live in the apartheid era yet they pay taxes just like you to support apartheid era politicians/civil servants.

This support is a huge burden on our economy and will be so for the next five decades at least.

Naomi Klein writes in her book "The Shock Doctrine" that the lives of millions of young South Africans are on hold because the post-apartheid state is paying the pensions of apartheid politicians and civil servants.

This payment is a kind of reverse affirmative action that actually benefits those who carried out apartheid and is detrimental to all (you included).

In effect it was the compromise that ended apartheid that pushed your generation (all colors) into taking responsibility for apartheid.

I do not support Affirmative Action as it is carried out in SA.

However, it must be conceded that apartheid was a white Affirmative Action policy that grossly advanced whites over everyone else.

How must this structural inequality be addressed?

This is a tough question that needs serious attention by all.

Also, we should not forget that white women are also recipients of Affirmative Action.

How else will we reach a gender balance? Another serious question to grapple with for sure.

Too many folks don't recognize that women of all colors were unfairly discriminated against in years gone by and that the situation has hardly improved.

I have felt beaten by the challenges in SA but I need to check my negativity and pessimism.

We may labor under the past and its unevenness but that does not mean we must remain its victims.

The strike is now on hold as you know. I think we can expect that there will be a revision of the R70 minimum paid to farmworkers.

In the end Zille is going to come off the worse; she lacks something when it come to crossing the divides.

If the DA wants to grow its color base it needs to be listening to the issues that cut across the masses.


Pstonie said...

It's not apartheid that's making farmers in India so indebted and indentured to monsanto that they have to kill themselves, to take one example.

When I think of something that needs to end, something that's two decades dead is not the first thing that comes to mind.

The situation in SA regarding wages is in my opinion another symptom of a much larger culture of exploitation that's taken hold globally. The people responsible for it own the media and use distractions such as divide and conquer and every overused trick from the alinsky handbook to make sure no one reaches the core of the problem unless they're weird enough that no one takes them seriously anyway.

Every wage dispute in SA right now is a direct result of when central bankers decided around 2007 to cash in on the bubble they created in 2001. The so-called financial crisis is a problem wholly created by a combination of central banks cutting lending, and the media pretending that this problem is the Greeks' fault.

But you wouldn't hear a whisper about that. No. It's the whites' fault. It's the blacks' fault.

Ridwan said...

You raise good points no doubt Pstonie.

We would all do well to hear you when you call for a larger complexity when analyzing what is happening to poor farmworkers in SA and India (elsewhere too) in a global economy.

You are right that the structures are wide and all encompassing - making a static state-only analysis somewhat suspect.

You have added needed complexity to my comment here and given reason for more thought.

Points well taken.