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Sugar Crisis: Why are South African sugarcane farmers protesting?

Over 85 000 jobs could be lost.

South African sugarcane farmers are not just marching in protest, they are marching as their careers have been on the line for the last few months. With opposition parties getting involved and a desperate plea for tariffs being made, what happens next?

Why are South African sugarcane farmers striking?

For the past five months, the South African Sugar Association (SASA) have been trying to get the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to re-instate the sugar tariff.

The tariff works to protect local farmers in the industry by blocking cheap imports. Over the five months, the DTI and International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa (ITAC), have not listened.

According to South African Farmers Development Association (SAFDA) deputy secretary, Francis Moonsamy, the situation is putting local farmers out of business.

“We have farmers working hard and others even putting in their pension money, but getting nothing in return. We used to have 50000 members, but now we have only 15000, meaning the rest have been forced out of business.”

“The price used to be R4500 per ton (of sugar cane) and this has now dropped to R3700 per ton or less, while fuel prices, labour costs, value-added tax and input costs have increased. Income has been going down for us. We appeal to the government to assist us with subsidies,” Moonsamy said.

In mid-June, small-scale sugar cane farmers took a 20-hour bus ride from KwaZulu-Natal to Cape Town in order to protest outside Parliament.

According to the workers, they have no other choice but to take journeys like that to show how desperate they are.

“We used to get a lot of money but now we are getting nothing. We can’t even take our children to school. Job opportunities have been lost because you can’t hire someone if you can’t pay them‚” one worker told a TimesLIVE journalist outside Parliament.

With reports indicating that approximately 25% of the local sugar market having been taken over by international imports, government has remained eerily quiet.

ANC MP Joanne Marie Fubbs has expressed her concern over the insufficient payments sugarcane farmers have received over the last year.

If the local sugar industry were to collapse and be taken over by imports, around 85 000 people will be left jobless.

On 26 June, the DA marched with angry workers to the DTI Campus in Pretoria to demand the tariffs be implemented.

Democratic Alliance (@Our_DA)
Today, we stand alongside sugar cane farmers who have tried for months to get the department of Trade and Industry to reinstate sugar tariffs. We must protect the local sugar cane industry from cheap imports.

DA MP and Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry, Dean Macpherson addressed the workers. According to Macpherson, workers are fighting for their “farms, industry and children’s’ future”.

“We must tell the DTI that they can’t just act quickly when one industry is crying and not the other. When the steel industry is in trouble they run to help it. When the farmers are asking for help, they’re sitting on their hands doing nothing, dololo, nothing,” Macpherson told workers.

Over 1600 farmers are set to take part in marches over the coming days or until the DTI takes action.

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