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Talks continue as South Africa farm unrest smoulders

Riot police kept watch amid tensions in South Africa’s picturesque Western Cape winelands Saturday as talks continued to end a deadlock between striking farm workers and employers, police and spokesmen said.

Authorities recorded only one incident of violence in a second day of general calm following two days of wage demonstrations. These saw police unload a barrage of rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas at hundreds of stone-throwing protesters.

“This morning at around 6am (0400 GMT) in De Doorns three people wearing balaclavas hijacked a truck after the driver had picked up farm workers,” said police spokesman November Filander.

The hijackers then set fire to the truck after driving to a nearby town, he told AFP.

Police arrested 125 people for public violence since the strikes started Wednesday, said Filander.

The provincial leader of powerful union federation COSATU said stoppages would carry on.

“There’s been no solution, the strike continues,” Tony Ehrenreich told AFP.

“There will be wage settlements in different areas,” he said.

But one farmer accused the unions of playing politics.

“I earlier offered them 105 rand ($12) a day. I renewed the offer this time round and (the unions) said it could work,” said Gerhard de Kock, a prominent farmer in De Doorns.

“But they’re not interested in a deal. They want to change the minimum wage to 105 rand. They want to show the government the figure is affordable,” De Kock told AFP.

Around 80 percent of permanent farm workers have shunned the strike, according to farmers.

Workers currently earn 69 rand ($8) a day. Angry at abysmal living standards and vast wealth disparities between white landowners and black labourers, they are demanding a doubling of minimum wages to 150 rand ($17.50) a day — a figure farmers say they can’t afford.

So far talks to end the violent wage dispute have stumbled amid the constraints of existing wage agreements, power struggles among unions and differing stances taken by individual farmers.