Still Concerned 3 Years After Mass De Doorns Displacement

PASSOP concerned 3 years after De Doorns mass displacement of 3000 Zimbabweans

We are worried about the safety of immigrants in rural farming communities, particularly in De Doorns

  •  We call upon political leaders to act with caution when they talk about immigrant workers and we strongly reject claims that strikes were started because of tensions between Sotho and Zimbabwean. These reckless remarks could provoke tensions and become a self-fulfilling prophecy if continually broadcasted publicly by politicians.
  • We also reject and are concerned by political leaders who could incite xenophobic tensions by recklessly drawing attention to documentation problems of immigrants at this sensitive time. Such comments are very dangerous.
  • We call on security companies, especially a company called Vetus Schola, which advertises itself as enabling “non-striking personnel to cross picket lines”, to not fuel tensions between immigrants and South Africans. We think it is reckless to place immigrants at the forefront of the protection of bosses during strike actions.
  • We call on farm owners and labour brokers to stop seeking workers of particular nationalities when sourcing workers. We are also concerned about reports of farm owners wanting to employ only “coloured” and not “black” workers in some areas (outside De Doorns)- potentially fueling conflict between races.
  • We call on the department of home affairs, who have clearly failed to ensure that immigrants are documented, not to interfere in De Doorns until the dust settles. The situation is volatile and their random deportations are leading to serious tensions.
  • We call upon the police to stop using immigration charges against striking workers, creating serious problems.
  •  We call for the release of all non-violent striking workers who are charged under the gathering act and strikers who are being held under the immigration act.
  • We again call on government; NGOs and all stakeholders to bring aid to alleviate the humanitarian crisis that many people living in De Doorns are facing. In addition to food and basic commodities, many people have not been able to access their ARV’s and have not been able to access TB treatment, as the local clinic has been shut for over 2 weeks.

Background:

On November the 17th of 2009, at 6am a disaster unraveled, thousands of Zimbabweans streamed into town after being displaced from the township. They fled a violent attack on them and ultimately ended up spending 11 months living on a rugby field.  As an organisation with strong grassroots links, we were the first NGO to warn of the imminent disaster.  We tried everything we could to ensure that a disaster was avoided, but to no avail. Instead we found ourselves on the ground helplessly trying to negotiate with violent crowds, essentially observers to the mass displacement.

3 years later, PASSOP, still active on the ground, noted that worker frustrations on farms in De Doorns were at an all time high. As PASSOP, we believed that working conditions and treatment of workers were often unacceptable and therefore openly sided with workers. We also decided to involve ourselves in peaceful attempts by workers to negotiate better wages. There were 3 peaceful strikes that were prior to the now well-known mass strike of workers on farms in De Doorns. From the onset, we were involved to ensure that immigrants, especially Zimbabweans (as they had previously been displaced), would not be seen to be undermining the strikes or seen to be scab labour. We can confidently say we were extremely careful. We also worked hard to ensure that the ongoing and serious documentation problems faced by immigrant workers were not used to divide the community and to make immigrants undermine any workers strike actions. If the community saw Zimbabweans, or immigrants, as undermining the strikes there would have been mass displacement and possibly much blood shed.

In the weeks before the mass strike, we held several meetings and events, including a healing ceremony to reflect on the death of some Zimbabweans after conflict erupted between the local Sotho and Zimbabweans about 4 years ago. The event included the slaughtering of a sheep and a feast for all Sotho, South Africans and Zimbabweans who attended. Thousands attended the event and integration was largely achieved. It is therefore our view that tensions between the Zimbabweans, Sotho and South Africans were at an all time low when this mass strike began.

During one of the strikes, the management of a farm called Royal Mushrooms, notorious for abusing its workers, called the police and demanded that they arrest immigrants among their own striking workers who were undocumented. Surprisingly a large crowd gathered to protest against their arrest and the crowd was comprised mostly of South African workers. It is therefore our view that tensions between locals and immigrants were the lowest they had been in five years, because workers had joined hands to negotiate better working conditions and wages. The reckless arrests by police and attempts to deport striking workers by home affairs were at the time slammed by COSATU and PASSOP.  (As a result of the farmer reporting himself as employing undocumented workers he was heavily fined, leading him to claim that home affairs was clamping down on farmers.)

We have seen many farm owners, labour brokers and politicians trying to blame NGOs, political parties, unions, tensions between locals and immigrants, problems with documentation and even the media for strikes in the farming sector, but think that these are all attempts to talk about issues other than the real issue of wages and working conditions.

We know that there are many factors and many role players in this strike of workers on farms, but are absolutely convinced that the action in De Doorns was a result of genuine frustrations among workers who wanted higher wages and also respect from their employers. We condemn all violence and damage to property that has occurred, but believe that such chaos could have been avoided if the farm owners had meaningfully engaged their workers around the concerns they had.

We hope that our appeals are taken seriously by stakeholders and possible future disasters avoided.

Contact: Langton Miriyoga on 084 026 9658 or Braam Hanekom on 084 319 1764

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