Farm workers picket wine festival

Lack of clean drinking water and toilets in the vineyards

Photo of protesters
Farm workers picket the annual Stellenbosch Wine Festival on Saturday to raise awareness of working conditions in the vineyards. Photo: Supplied

A group of farm workers, mostly women, demonstrated at the gates to the Stellenbosch Wine Festival on Saturday. They sang and held posters reading: “No toilet in vineyards” and “Stop poison”. They tried to enter the Coetzenburg Sports Grounds where the annual event was held.

The women, who work in the Cape winelands, marched under the banner of the Women on Farms Project. Carmen Louw, programme coordinator, said the main reason was to make wine drinkers “aware of the appalling conditions women workers face”.

“I would say the response to our picket was good. We spoke to many people going into the festival. Some said they felt sorry for the workers and others said they disagreed with the working conditions, but said because they already paid for their tickets, they had to go inside.

“Some of the women tried to go inside but they were stopped by security,” she said.

Louw said that surveys on farms in the winelands found that female farm workers did not have access to clean drinking water or a toilet while toiling in the vineyards all day.

“This is a major human rights violation. We want people to at least think before they drink the wine. We told people that the cheapest ticket for the festival was R150 per person, that’s not even what most workers get for a whole day.

“Where do they think workers go to the toilet if there are no facilities? They have to pee in the vineyards,” she said.

Elmarie Rabe, manager of Stellenbosch Wine Routes, told GroundUp that the organisation was aware of the workers’ picket and that it took “the issues raised very seriously”. Rabe said the wine farms in Stellenbosch, particularly the ones which export, did undergo rigorous auditing.

“I went out to speak to some of the protesters and most of them were from Paarl and De Doorns. We actually welcome open dialogue and investigations into any allegations of transgressions on our farms,” she said.

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