The ongoing farmworkers strike in the Western Cape looks set to intensify on Monday, as negotiations between the strike coalition and farmers broke down again on Friday. This despite an official call by ANC provincial leader Marius Fransman for the strike to be suspended. The first three days of the strike last week saw numerous violent confrontations between police and protesters, cars destroyed, motorists stoned, roads blockaded, numerous injuries and at least 125 arrests across the Boland. By BENJAMIN FOGEL.
On Friday morning, much of the town of De Doorns was littered with the debris of the riot, from scattered shell casings from police rubber bullets to the burnt out remainders of road blockades set up across the town. Although there was no violence on Friday, as striking workers and community members awaited reports from negotiations, the town seemed enveloped by fear and anger.
The hostility to journalists which culminated in the destruction of a car belonging to the Cape Times and the assault of two journalists on Wednesday seemed to have subsided. Instead, we encountered a community still suspicious of journalists, but this time in fear of being identified by the police after featuring in a news story.
Rumours abounded across the town of everything from stories of the use of live ammunition the day before, to night raids and arrests carried out by the police. Another rumour told of man shot in his bed and his subsequent evacuation to Tygerberg Hospital because of the extent of his injuries. And although there was no hard evidence to back these rumours, what they did reflect was the town's heavy mood and the community's anger.
The Daily Maverick spoke to several community members who claimed to have been the victims of police brutality during the course of the strike. A number of community members in De Doorns have alleged that police shot citizens not directly involved in the strike with rubber bullets in their own dwellings.
For fear of police retribution the community members that we spoke wish to remain anonymous. Two protestors in De Doorns died during the first round of the strike and several dozen were injured.
“Johannes”, 20, alleged that he was shot four times in the back by police while watching, in his shack located some distance away from the running battle taking place primarily along the N1. Johannes claimed that he, his younger brother and his mother were simply watching TV when police officers broke down his door, physically removing his mother from their home and striking his 13-year-old brother in the head with a fist. After this, he claimed, he had been shot four times with rubber bullets. “Johannes” is adamant that he had no involvement in the strike or the confrontations with the police.
Photo: “Johannes”, 20, alleged that he was shot four times in the back by police while watching, in his shack located some distance away from the running battle taking place primarily along the N1. (Shachaf Polakow/Activestills.org)
Even the neighbour's dog, Oortjies, appeared to have been hit by a rubber bullet. The small dog had visible dark bruising on its torso. The dog was, according to the owner, shot in a property far removed from the fighting.
“Peter”, 21, whose face was bandaged, claimed to have been shot in his face by police outside his house on Thursday. He said he had not been involved in the clashes between police and protesters.
Photo: Two protestors in De Doorns died during the first round of the strike and several dozen were injured. (Shachaf Polakow/Activestills.org)
Disturbingly, several community members told the Daily Maverick on Wednesday and on Friday that if one person was killed by the police, they would fetch their guns and retaliate.
According to one worker, “John”, “police are the problem”. The presence of the police in the area surrounding the homes of most workers, “made the community angry”. When people spotted an armoured car stationed at the bridge over the N1 or patrolling the township, people started to plan how they would confront the police.
The presence of the police in the community, even when things were relatively still, has been perceived as a form of provocation. “John” wanted leaders of the strike like Cosatu's Tony Ehrenreich or Bawusa’s Nosey Pieterse to attempt to persuade the police to pull back from occupying positions directly in the tense De Doorns township.
But Ehrenreich said Cosatu could not call off the strike. “This is not political … This strike can only be called off by workers and they have said it will continue until a living wage is paid,” he said. All of the workers we spoke to in De Doorns seemed to be determined to continue the strike until a “meaningful offer” was presented by the farmers.
ANC Boland regional secretary Pat Marren and the head of Bawusa and Bawsi, Nosey Pieterse, were both shot with rubber bullets in De Doorns. Several other Bawusa leaders were also shot. Pieterse was shot by the police on Wednesday while leading several thousand protesters on a march down the N2. Marren was shot by a private security guard on Thursday in a De Doorns suburb.
It has become standard practice during strikes and protests which either turn violent or have the potential to turn violent, for police from other regions to be deployed in the area. This is because police who have to sleep in the same community at night are less likely to employ force than police who have no ties to the community.
During an inspection of the town on Friday, the Daily Maverick spotted several armoured cars from Khayelitsha and the elite Tactical Response unit patrolling the area and waiting in strategic locations, just in case things flared up again.
From out of the chaos it appears Bawusa has emerged as the leading force in De Doorns and the popularity of Pieterse seems to have spiked in the aftermath being hit by rubber bullets on Wednesday, but it is unclear to what extent Bawusa is in control of the strike. Nelie Barends, the regional secretary of Bawusa, said that although “Bawusa does not condone violence”, the police were “out of control”.
If community members carry out their threat to arm themselves should there be further deaths perceived to be at the hands of the police, the consequences could be tragic. As the spectre of Marikana continues to haunt our national consciousness, without cooler heads and realism, things in De Doorns could escalate entirely out of control. A disturbing prospect indeed. DM
Main photo by Shachaf Polakow/Activestills.org.