Labor Unrest on South African Farms

A wave of labor unrest that has been sweeping across South Africa in the last few months appears to have spread to the farm sector, threatening to undermine the African nation’s second strongest industry.

The unrest began in August, when miners at Lonmin PLC Marikana platinum mine, unhappy with low wages (which many claim are a legacy of South Africa’s apartheid past) began demanding better pay and benefits. This unrest led to confrontations with mine guards (who ended up killing 12 people) and a mass shooting of striking miners by South African police that killed 32 people and is still being investigated today.

While the Lonmin miners received a significant pay increase, other miners followed suit and walked off the job, sparking a wave of labor unrest across the country.

Farmers and farm laborers appear to be joining the labor movement. With minimum farm laborer wages only $8 a day (and with top earners rarely earning more than that), day laborers often face systematic issues with poverty.

These long-simmering resentments appear to have exploded on South African farms. Earlier this week, striking farm laborers burned crops, vandalized farm buildings, and fought with riot police. With two major South African industries (mining and farming) paralyzed by unrest and violence, some officials fear that the strikes could undermine the economy and could destabilize a national already fractured by sever racial and economic chasms.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer