“We outnumber the farmers eleven to one and they still hoard the economic power and still talk to us with disrespect. We could kill all the farmers in a weekend if we wanted to and this land will be fucked up - it could happen in one day. But until this strike we were never able to get all the farm workers and all of us to come out and fight back”
Local Councilman and supporter of the farm worker protests
In late 2012 into early 2013, tens of thousands of farm workers and their allies across more than twenty-five towns around the Western Cape of South Africa, engaged in a historic series of explosive and unexpected work stoppages and protests. There had not in living memory been a protest that reached this scale and intensity, even though grievances around low wages, inadequate housing, and unfair treatment have plagued farm workers for years; the perceived power of the farm owners coupled with a lack of large, formal organisation or trade unions among farm workers seemed to have stacked the deck against collective resistance.
Not only was the scale of this uprising historic, it displayed a form of resistance outside the “paternalistic” discourse that characterised relationships between farm workers and farm owners; as Ewert and Du Toit explain about traditional farm worker resistance, “. . . they rely on the ‘weapons of the weak’, operating within the framework of the paternalistic moral universe itself, relying on individual appeals, consensual negotiations, and the avoidance of the appearance of open conflict” (2005). Yet this uprising was defined by open conflict, including burning of vineyards, protest marches, and pitched battles with the police; farm workers and their allies adopted an overt, confrontational, and adversarial approach in an apparent break from the traditional discourse.