Strike a woman, Strike a rock

Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ imbokodo” is the famous cry that went up on 9 August 1956, when thousands of South African women marched on Pretoria to protest against pass laws that restricted movement under apartheid.

“Strike a woman and you strike a rock”.

Sikhula Sonke farmworkers’ union – the name means “Grow Together” – is an organisation founded in the same indomitable spirit of the strong and determined women who struck at the foundations of apartheid and eventually caused it to crumble. A women-led farmworkers union and social movement, Sikhula Sonke works with some of the most marginalised and vulnerable workers in South Africa.

Many live in semi-feudal conditions on wine farms. Many of them descended from the slaves who worked the same farms, they are suffering the consequences of the infamous “dop” system – the practice of paying workers a daily wine ration that has made alcoholism a scourge of these communities. Workers live in absolute poverty producing wine and fruit that is sold in some of the world’s biggest supermarkets – including Tesco.

Right now, there is a revolt in this sector, as South African fruit farms experience their “Marikana moment”: workers, fed up with generations of low pay and oppression, have gone on strike, vandalising farms and burning vineyards. It has caused a political crisis in the Western Cape province. Sikhula Sonke is involved in trying to bring about a just and peaceful solution.

Sikhula Sonke also work with farmers and fair trade organisations, and promote the farmers who do pay a fair wage. USi intends to work with them to highlight some of this work.

As a union and social movement, Sikhula Sonke tackles both the wages and conditions provided by the farmers, and the social conditions that lead to alcoholism and domestic violence.

The General Secretary of Sikhula Sonke, Patricia Dyata, was in the UK recently on a visit organised by War on Want and the Central America Women’s Network. We had the privilege of listening to her inspiring talk about organising farm workers to overcome the devastating legacy of apartheid.

Published by

Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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