WorldWine News


South Africa: Social unrest reaches wine country

Social unrest in South Africa which started last August in the mining industry around Johannesburg has recently reached the winelands of the Western Cape region. Already, at the beginning of this week, a speaker of the Eastern Cape regional organisation of SA's ruling ANC, Mlibo Qoboshiyane, had issued a statement in which he called for boycott of South African wines and declared, whoever bought these wines supported the exploitation of the mainly black work force on the wine farms. "The South African wine industry is making a lot of money locally and internationally; therefore, the wage demands of the workers are realistic and can be met by the employers", Qoboshiyane is quoted.

farm workers on wine farms in the Tulbagh area. (photo: E. Supp)

With his appeal, Qoboshiyane not only wanted to support a strike which had just started on wine farms at De Doorns in the Worcester appellation (Breede River Valley). Here, farm workers had asked for in increase of their wages from 6 to more than 13 Euros (150 SA Rands) a day and general improvements of their living conditions. His remarks were also clearly directed towards the Democratic Alliance, Cape Towns ruling party, and its chairwoman Helen Zille who had become the main political competitors of the ANC in the last years.

Last Wednesday, the conflict in the wine industry escalated: In Wolseley, a small country town of the Tulbagh area, a 28 year old man was shot to death and 5 others were injured when police charged demonstrating strikers and rioters. As a consequence, Helen Zille asked the central government to send in the army, a request which was refused with a hint to the regional responsibility for police duties.

Notwithstanding the political background of the events it seems obvious that the shrinking economical strength is one of the reasons for the present unrest, as is the fact that SA's black population, nearly 20 years after the end of apartheid, finally asks for more substantial improvements of their living conditions. Even if the wine industry has started, in recent months, to deal with the problem installing WIETA, an ethical trade initiative aiming for better living and working conditions of the Cape's black working population, it is clear that this can not generate substantial effects in the short term. The violence of the last days might be a consequence, too, of a long lasting underestimation of the conflict potential. ENO WorldWine will deal with the whole complex of ethics in the SA wine industry before the end of the year.

Shortly after having published the German version of this article, WOSA Germany sent us the following statement of Su Birch, CEO of Wosa, the South African wine export organisation, which we publish without further comment: "We are greatly saddened by the civil unrest taking place in parts of the Cape Winelands. According to reports on the ground, the crowds burning vineyards and packsheds are not the workers from the farms involved and whose livelihoods are now under threat.

We hope there will be a speedy and effective resolution as the situation is adversely affecting many vulnerable workers and vulnerable farmers and will negatively impact the wine industry. To destroy wine-growing infrastructure and assets will result in joblessness as workers who would otherwise have been active in vineyards, and cellars will have no work at all this season. Similarly, calling for a boycott of Cape wine can only lead to further job losses." (The extended statement:

The South African wine industry, through its support of the Wine and Agricultural Industry Ethical Association (WIETA) and also FairTrade, is working hard to ensure the ethical treatment of workers. WIETA is a not-for-profit organisation whose stakeholders include producers, retailers, trade unions, NGOs and government. Amongst its members are trade unions Sikule Sonke and FAWU; and NGOs such as Women on Farms and The Centre for Rural and Legal Studies (

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