My very brief encounter with striking farm workers

David Bullard on the WCape unrest as viewed from a Porsche Cayenne GTS

I can quite understand why people like Prof Anton Harber and his ilk so dislike motoring journalists. Last week I spent a very sunny day in the Western Cape driving the new Porsche Cayenne GTS over a 500km test route with a break for lunch at De Kelders, watching whales frolicking in the bay while having a most enjoyable light lunch at Coffee on the Rocks. The genial owner of that establishment is a fan of past columns which is why he gets an honourable mention.

It was a splendid day spent driving past recently harvested fields of whatever that gold stuff is they grow down there, on well maintained roads that are straight enough to enable you to see into the far distance but with enough curvy bits to be able to really appreciate the engineering superiority of a car like the Cayenne.

Who would have believed when Porsche first introduced the Cayenne ten years ago (I was lucky enough to be flown to Leipzig when the first one rolled off the production line) that an SUV would become Porsche's best seller? At the time the wise men of the motoring press wrote that Porsche had lost its way and the departure from the purity of the 911 would take the company back to the dog days from which it had only recently recovered. They couldn't have got it more wrong. By combining the sportiness of the more traditional 911 with the practicality of a large four seater capable of going off road they attracted an entirely new market.

Now you could, with good conscience, buy a family car with the iconic Stuttgart antlers and get all the thrills of driving a sports car. Well, most of the thrills because it's always going to be difficult to beat the driving experience you get from a Porsche 911. But bearing in mind the size of the Cayenne versus the 911, it's still a remarkably responsive drive for such a large SUV. The new model even features some acoustic wizardry which blasts the roar of the engine up the A pillars of the car. How cool is that?

Part of our driving route involved going past some striking farm workers who had gathered to demand a 100% increase in their daily rate. At one point it was thought that the test route would have to be changed because the road might be obstructed but the police managed to move the  workers a few hundred metres down the road so that a convoy of very expensive Porsche Cayenne's could sweep majestically around  a corner and accelerate madly into the distance.  

It was a surreal moment as we passed placard carrying workers demanding a daily wage that wouldn't even pay for the key fob of a Cayenne and their employers sitting guardedly on the back of their bakkies and watching nervously for any sign of mob destruction. Earlier in the week striking farm workers had been burning vines thus insuring that, even if their employers agreed to R150 a day, they would be left with nothing to pick.

Porsche are going to have no problem selling their Cayenne GTS. In fact, the waiting list will almost certainly run to eight months or longer such will be the demand for the allocation of vehicles from Germany. You only have to look at the roads around our big cities to realise that there is plenty of money around, admittedly some of it come by in unconventional ways.

So if there's all this money around why can't farm labourers be paid more than R80 a day and their lives made less wretched? The answer is very and demand. The work may be back breakingly hard and the working day long but the fact is that there are plenty of people in rural South Africa who are unskilled and have no other means of making a living.

So why would a farmer, who already gets a depressingly low price for his product compared with the price it eventually fetches in export markets, want to bid up the price of labour? Particularly as farming is such a precarious business and one year's bumper crop may be followed by several disastrous years. How can any business so at the mercy of nature guarantee workers daily wages?

Unfortunately our Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the gormless Tina Joemat-Pettersson (who cost taxpayers R420 000 for an extended stay at a luxury Sandton guest house back in 2010) doesn't see it that way. Last week she was assuring striking farmworkers that they wouldn't be prosecuted should they inadvertently set fire to something . Apparently the ANC has an ongoing deal with the National Prosecuting Authority whereby it tells them who they can and cannot prosecute. Naturally she played the race card and accused the Democratic Alliance of trying to create an "apartheid colonial state" in the Western Cape.

We must remember that Mangaung looms and that Joemat-Pettersson probably saw this as an opportunity to get some concentrated brown nosing in but it is still a disgraceful display of stupidity by a cabinet minister charged with making sure the Agricultural sector works. After what happened at Marikana one would have hoped that our politicians may have learnt some lessons but it seems it isn't the case. They are still prepared to sacrifice the life of a prole to win a few votes.

Naturally this sort of thing makes the world news and is observed by the Jeffs in Melbourne and anyone else who has a passing interest in the accelerating decline of this country.

Which brings me neatly back to the motor industry. Last weekend, the Indian owned Jaguar Land Rover group announced that, for the first time, they will be manufacturing vehicles outside the UK. They are setting up a plant in China where labour is cheap and where Commie politicians seem to embrace the idea of creating jobs for people by producing luxury capitalist cars for the domestic and world market.  We could have had that deal I suspect but a glance at our labour practices and the attitude of our politicians is enough to put off any investor.

My fear is that the German and Japanese motor manufacturers who have been here for so many years may eventually tire of playing games with our militant labour movement and make a similar move. Looking at what's happening in the mining and agricultural sector who would blame them?

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