South Africa police fire on farm workers

CAPE TOWN — South African police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at hundreds of striking farm workers who blocked a highway in the grape-growing Western Cape today, the first clashes of a year likely to be marked by fractious labor relations.

The strikers had piled burning tires across the main highway through the town of De Doorns, 100 kilometres east of Cape Town, to demand higher wages, a Reuters reporter on the scene said.

Four people were hospitalised for minor injuries from rubber bullets as police dispersed the crowd, an emergency worker said.

“I can confirm that 41 people have been arrested but that number could rise,” said police spokesman Andre Traut.

The strikers set bushes on fire and torched a bulldozer and a caravan, sending smoke billowing into the sky.

After the crowd had scattered, police removed large rocks that protesters had used to block the road. Empty rubber bullet cartridges littered the ground near the highway.

Africa’s largest economy saw waves of labour unrest last year that began in the platinum mining industry and swept through the trucking and agriculture sectors.

Police killed 34 miners at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine during some of the worst unrest in August, tarnishing South Africa’s reputation among overseas investors and prompting downgrades of its sovereign debt ratings.

With gold and coal mines employing more than 250,000 people due to begin industry-wide wage talks in coming months, analysts expect labour relations to cast a shadow over an economy forecast to grow by around three per cent this year. (Reuters)

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