Zimbabwe Farm Strike Continues
TRELAWNEY, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Armed police backed by helicopters patrolled white-owned farms Thursday after striking farm workers trashed cars and trucks, tore up crops and destroyed produce.
The wives and children of some of the farmers were evacuated from this lush district about 50 miles northwest of Harare after three days of violent protests, said the main farmers organization, the Commercial Farmers’ Union.
Police said more than 100 protesters were arrested Thursday after the worst violence in a two-week work stoppage affecting farms across Zimbabwe.
More than 15,000 strikers brought production to a standstill Tuesday on Trelawney district’s 144 registered farms.
The strike is the first held nationwide by farm workers in the nation’s history and turned violent after pay negotiations deadlocked, the CFU said.
Farm workers are among the lowest paid employees in Zimbabwe. The strikers are demanding increases of about 135 percent, up from $31 a month to $75.
Farmers have offered raises of about 20 percent.
CFU president Nick Swanepoel said his organization sought government-sponsored arbitration between farmers and the union.
``We believe a reasonable solution can be found through negotiation. We can’t afford these demands. It would cripple commercial agriculture,″ he told reporters.
Cuthbert Hute, a spokesman for the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union, said it called on workers to return to their jobs Thursday to await a new round of pay negotiations. But the strike continued with violence in Trelawney.
The CFU, which represents some 4,000 farmers, most of them white, said Trelawney landowners received death threats from the strikers. Though most of the farmers were armed, there were no shooting incidents.
Strikers and looters commandeered tractors to travel from farm to farm, smashed motorcycles and other equipment, robbed stores and barns and gutted one whitewashed homestead amid blossoming gardens.
Warwick Evans, a district official of the CFU, said fuel tanks were ruptured and chemicals and insecticides dumped over crops and into irrigation channels.
Strikers also blocked roads and stoned passing cars.
``This is no longer a strike. This is criminal action,″ Evans said.
Trelawney is one of the most productive areas for tobacco and horticulture, high earning crops in the agriculture-based economy.