Protest by unemployed in De Doorns takes a xenophobic turn

The agricultural sector is the main source of employment for residents of this De Doorns township. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Looting of shops owned by foreign nationals flared up in De Doorns during a protest against unemployment and bribery for jobs on farms in the area.

A protest against unemployment, discriminatory practices and bribery by a group of unemployed workers in De Doorns resulted in the looting of shops owned by foreign nationals. According to community members, the protest started after a group of workers were turned down jobs on a nearby farm because they were “South African and supervisors at the farm were only employing  Zimbabwean and Lesotho nationals”.

A well-placed source who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of being attacked told Elitsha that a group of 18 women went to the African National Congress offices on Tuesday after they were turned down for jobs because they were South African and did not have R200 to pay for the jobs. “They got onto the truck at the circle in Stofland even though the truck driver told them that the farmer and the supervisors prefer Zimbabwean and Lesotho nationals. When they got to the farm, the supervisors took their passports and they all had R200 notes.” When they asked why are they being ignored they were told that the driver told them that the farmer prefers foreign nationals.  The group asked to be dropped back in the township and the driver and the supervisor refused and they had to walk back home. According to the source the group also went to the Department of Labour in the area and they were seen singing as they were making their way home.

The same source added that on the same day three men were also turned down on a nearby farm because “they only had jobs for women at the moment”. But a phone call from one of the workers at the farm informed the three elderly men that a group of men were employed after they left.

According to Monwabisi Vusani, a resident of Ekuphumleni, the group gathered at the circle in Stofland. “That is where the trucks off-load farmworkers in the evening,” he said. “They said that they were tired of being overlooked by the farmers and supervisors at the farms. They were accusing the supervisors and the farmer of discrimination and bribery,” said Vusani.

The road into Stofland township was still blocked with stones on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Mzi Velapi

A community protest ensued on Tuesday evening and led to the looting of shops owned by foreign nationals and the closure of the N1. “The hooligans took advantage of the protest and started to loot the shops owned by foreigners. They took everything, its clear to me that there was an element of xenophobia,” explained Vusani.

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When Elitsha visited the small town alongside the N1 in the Boland, 139 kilometres outside of Cape Town, shops that are run by foreign nationals were closed whilst those run by South Africans were operating as normal. There was still debris of burnt tyres and stones on the road. In town, a local butchery had been looted and the doors at a local Spar was damaged.

An Ethiopian shop-owner spoke to Elitsha: “They took everything, even my fridge. They started by throwing stones at my shop. When they could not break the burglar bar open they entered through the roof. I lost about R80,000 worth of stock and goods that were in my shop.”

One of the shops that was looted by the protestors. Photo by Mzi Velapi

“The farmers want us to fight among each other. They want us coloureds to blame the Africans and they want the Africans to blame foreigners for lack of jobs in this area,” said Bianca Williams, a seasonal farmworker. “They know its season time and they know we are all desperate for jobs and some of us are prepared to work for less than minimum wage, especially the foreign nationals. They don’t want us to be equal, they want to divide us,” she added.

Another seasonal farmworker, Jessica Mbolekwa, told Elitsha that the problem in the area is high unemployment and the fact that “people are hungry”. “The problem is that the farmers do not want to employ enough people to do the job. One person is doing five peoples’ job on the farm. They do not want to employ more people because of the minimum wage,” explained Mbolekwa.

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A 24-year-old Zimbabwean men told Elitsha that the problem on the farms is the supervisors who want to be bribed for the jobs. “They know that Zimbabweans are desperate for jobs and will do anything to get a job and that is what started the protest. Some farmers do not know about such things,” he said.

The situation was becoming more tense as the day progressed and Elitsha witnessed a lot of farmworkers coming back from work early because “there were threats that those who went to work will be dealt with” said one who wanted to remain anonymous.

A truck off-loading farmworkers in De Doorns. Photo by Lunga Guza

In town the shops were closing as early as 15h30 as advised by the local police station. According to Lieutenant Colonel Adri Kriel, they had to close the N1 after the protestors threw stones at cars and tried to block the road. “Three people have been detained for questioning on their role around the protest but no one has been charged yet,” said Kriel, who is the also the station commander in De Doorns.

The area is not new to protests and strikes. In August 2012, South Africa saw the biggest and longest strike by farmworkers. It started in August and lasted until January 2013. The strike was met by brutal police repression that led to the deaths of three workers. The strikers were demanding R150 a day but settled for R105 which was 52% more than the R69 they had been earning before the strike. The farmworkers also came up with 21 demands, none of which have been met.

 

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