The call last week by the Black Workers’ Agricultural Sector Union (BAWUSA) for consumers in the United Kingdom to boycott South African wines and fruit reminds one of apartheid days, when now-British MP Peter Hain was vocal about boycotting South African products in our dark days prior to the change in our government in 1994. Such a boycott could only worsen the situation for the half a million South African farmworkers, and is counterproductive to negotiating an increase in the minimum farmworker wage, and in the improvement in the general well-being of the farm workers.
The trade union federation COSATU is led by its Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich, a known trouble maker and loud mouth who has regularly put his foot into his mouth in attempting to destroy our tourism industry, and is now focusing on destroying our wine and fruit (including apples and grapes) export business. Ehrenreich is a City of Cape Town ANC councillor, and one wonders why he does not do his day job for Cape Town, regularly having been seen in the past two months in De Doorns, the epicentre of the farmworker unrest, and why the City does not censure him. He and his trade union federation mates had to concede defeat, when the workers asked for the strike and unrest to be called off last week, as the workers were running short of money, not being paid for their days off whilst striking! Many say that the unrest was instigated by the ANC to make the Western Cape ungovernable, the province being in the political hands of the opposition Democratic Alliance!
Sensationalist The Guardian has led British newspapers in pushing for the boycott, and even ran an opinion poll about the topic, 59% of the poll voters supporting such a boycott, reported The South African.
Su Birch, CEO of Wines of South Africa (WOSA), wrote an open letter to the newspaper: ‘The coverage unfairly targets the South African wine industry and has the potential to do unimaginable damage to an industry that is working hard, through its support of the Wine and Agricultural Industry Ethical Association (WIETA), and also Fairtrade, to ensure the ethical treatment of workers‘. Ms Birch highlighted that the strikes were not connected to the wine industry, but to the fruit farming industry. She also reminded the readers of the newspaper that South Africa is the ‘largest producer of Fairtrade wines in the world‘, and that the WIETA initiatives are making ‘real, tangible progress that puts South Africa at the forefront of ethical, social sustainability‘. WOSA-antagonist Neil Pendock could not help but take a swipe at WOSA about the poll, yet admitted that he had voted against the boycott!
It is too early to tell what damage, if any, The Guardian poll and resultant publicity for the farmworkers’ cause will generate, and whether it will impact on wine and fruit exports, at a time when South African wine producers are facing tough times in generating sales in the UK!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage