Israel’s takeover of South African dairy company Clover is a disaster

South African unions condemn the takeover of Clover by the Israeli-led company, Milco SA. (Photo: Courtesy of the BDS Movement website)

By Iqbal Jassat

The year 2022 has started in South Africa with calls for a nationwide boycott of Clover since the Israeli dairy company was hit by a strike in November last year.

Workers protesting wage cuts, layoffs and a host of unfair labor practices have received huge support from consumers and human rights organizations.

The Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) and the General Industries Workers Union of SA (GIWUSA) have called for continued mass action as they campaign for justice for employees affected by the Clover takeover by the Israeli company Milco.

The genesis of the workers’ problems stems from the controversial takeover of South Africa’s flagship dairy industry by Milco, an Israeli conglomerate linked to colonial settlements in occupied Palestine.

Exactly what FAWU and GIWUSA feared happened with job cuts, austerity measures and the closure of local production plants to import and distribute Israeli apartheid products.

Notwithstanding the agreements and assurances obtained during the Competition Commission hearings, the workers believe that their rights have been significantly undermined by Milco’s conduct. Layoffs are not synonymous with job creation, they argue. And imports of products from illegally occupied settlements do not match the growth of the South African economy.

The argument thus presented by the unions to nationalize Clover is convincing and deserves massive support. Just as we resist the usurpation and colonization of Palestine by Israel, we must also resist the colonization of the South African dairy industry.

Workers opposed to Milco and Israel’s Central Bottling Company (CBC) are in the trenches like their Palestinian counterparts, bravely fighting for justice. Their message to President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel is clear: restore our rights and recognize that granting access to an Israel-linked business to destabilize a vital industry is a serious mistake that must be repaired urgently.

The Clover debacle cannot be isolated from the ANC’s position of solidarity with Palestine. Indeed, its takeover by companies accused of links to Israel’s notorious terrorist army, known as the IDF, is in direct conflict with the ruling party’s pro-Palestinian stance.

A statement released by GIWUSA President Mametlwe Sebei clarifies these points as follows:

“Clover was purchased in 2019 by Milco SA, which is owned by Israeli company Central Bottling. It is a betrayal of the oppressed masses of Palestine that the ‘pro-Palestine’ ANC government allows a larger South African dairy company, over a hundred years old and still employing thousands of workers , to be demoted to a ship purely focused on making profit for its Israeli owners, who are also oppressing the Palestinians at the same time.

“GIWUSA and FAWU believe that Milco is closing several factories so that they can turn Clover into a distribution network primarily for Israeli products, which will lead to further job losses and will also be devastating for South African dairy farmers and consumers of dairy products that could face higher prices.The unions are calling on the government to nationalize Clover and keep Clover factories open in small towns and keep the supply of South African dairy products uninterrupted.

South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi weighed in by throwing the full might of the union in solidarity with the striking workers. He demanded an end to layoffs, the reinstatement of workers and the nationalization of Clover.

As momentum builds with Palestinian solidarity movements backing workers’ demands, the strike is set to escalate into full-scale mass action across the country.

What is strange but perhaps not entirely surprising is the lack of intervention on behalf of oppressed workers from the presidency or the relevant ministry headed by Ebrahim Patel. It is simply mind-boggling that the consequences of Milco’s action, particularly the devastating effects on the dairy industry, have not been addressed as a priority.

Can it then be said that the absence of State intervention to protect the interests of the workers and thus ensure that the entire dairy industry is safe from extinction, is a breach of the duty of the President Cyril Ramaphosa?

Isn’t the Presidency aware of the daily raids by the Israeli army and racist settlers as they carry out fierce attacks on Palestinians? Of course it is!

Is the presidency not aware of the link between Milco and the Israeli occupation army? Of course it is!

Isn’t the presidency aware of the job cuts at Clover following the takeover of Milco? Of course it is!

The takeover of Clover by companies based in settler colonial rule was a disaster and unless calls for its nationalization are heard and implemented, it is clear that the legitimate concerns raised by the unions will will add to the woes of thousands and thousands of families.

– Iqbal Jassat is an executive member of the Media Review Network, based in South Africa. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle. Visit: www.mediareviewnet.com

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