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South Africa Leaders Move in to Resolve Farmworkers Strike

The crippling strikes in South Africa have moved into the farming industry, as farmworkers walked out more than a week seeking a doubling of their wages—prompting President Jacob Zuma’s administration to attempt to intervene in the labor crisis.

The ministers of labor and agriculture are scheduled to meet to discuss the possibility of raising the wages in the crucial sector.

Several thousand farmworkers from the Western Cape vineyard region are looking to have their salaries doubled to $11 a day. The agriculture ministry agrees that the current pay of the farmworkers is “not enough.”

“They don’t have decent living conditions, they don’t have decent water to drink, it’s a very basic problem,” said Palesa Mokomela, spokeswoman for the ministry of agriculture.

She said the minister was right to declare that the dignity and rights of people were worth as much as profits from table grapes and the export market.

The ANC ruling party is moving quickly to resolve the crisis so that it doesn’t reach the catastrophic levels of violence and dysfunction that accompanied the strikes in the mining industry.

The conflicts at the mines erupted in August after police opened fire on a group of striking workers at the Lonmin mines in Marikana , killing 34 in a massacre that shocked the world. Last month, a judicial inquiry heard that 14 of the 34 murdered workers were actually shot in the back—debunking claims by the police that the miners were all charging them.

The mining unrest has rocked the nation’s economy and resulted in the serious decline of the rand, the South African currency. South Africa is the world’s biggest platinum producer and the fifth-biggest gold producer.

The mine workers had been demanding $1,800 a month, more than three times their current average salary.

Mining companies have used firings as a way for the mining companies to deal with the conflict. Last month, about 8,500 striking workers were fired at the nearby Goldfields KDC East mine. In addition, bullion producer Harmony Gold and AngloGold Ashanti had promised to fire strikers if they did not return to work.

“There is going to be a meeting today between the acting (labor minister) as well as the one for agriculture,” said Musa Zondi, a spokesman for the ministry of labor.

But though officials are focused on the issue, they cautioned that it will take time.

“Even if there was going to be an agreement to change the sectoral determinations, it is not something that is done overnight,” Zondi said.

 

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