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S.Africa’s farm workers scale back wage strike

South African farm workers scaled back their strike for higher wages on Thursday with thousands marching peacefully in the picturesque wine region as others returned to work.

Under police escort, thousands demonstrated along the main N1 freeway connecting Cape Town and Johannesburg that has been closed since the strikes started last week.

Workers have demanded that farmers more than double their daily wages to 150 rand ($17; 13 euros).

“We’re going to march to the farms to deliver memorandums to each farm,” Nosey Pieterse, general secretary of the hardline Bawsi Agricultural Workers Union, said at the start of the march in the top grape growing area of De Doorns.

COSATU, the union umbrella group closely allied to the ruling ANC, had called for the strike by labourers in most of the wine and fruit producing region southwest of the country to be put on hold for a week.

“COSATU is calling for the suspension in all areas except De Doorns, to give negotiations a chance till January 22,” COSATU’s representative in the Western Cape province Tony Ehrenreich told AFP.

De Doorns was excluded because “the workers there specifically said they wanted to continue,” he said.

In Clanwilliam, a citrus fruit-growing part of the region, COSATU said workers had agreed to return to the farms after employers offered a day rate of 105 rand, a roughly 50 percent hike.

“We have only seen a return to work in Clanwilliam… because an agreement was reached,” said Pieterse.

“However in other areas there is no agreement, therefore the strike continues.”

Workers have in the past week fought running battles with police during violent demonstrations.

Police have responded with rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades to repel stone-throwing protesting workers on the streets of the farming towns — South Africa’s prime fruit export region.