South Africa's ANC government stepped in to cool down a hot-tempered agricultural strike on Wednesday, backing demands by striking farmworkers for higher pay.

Describing current pay for farmworkers as "not enough" the agriculture ministry moved to freeze the crisis, which some warn could have "severe" consequences for the country's vital sector.

Several thousand farm workers from the Western Cape's vineyard region have been on strike for more than a week, calling for their salary to be doubled to 150 rand (14 euros, $11) a day.

"They don't have decent living conditions, they don't have decent water to drink, it's a very basic problem," said Palesa Mokomela, spokeswoman for the ministry of agriculture.

The minister was right to say that the dignity and rights of people were worth as much as profits from table grapes and the export market, she said.

The ruling ANC has been chastened by a deadly spiral of mining strikes that has sullied the country's image abroad and weakened the economy at home. Senior members are to meet later on Wednesday to discuss raising the minimum wage for the sector.

"There is going to be a meeting today between the acting (labour minister) as well as the one for agriculture," said Musa Zondi, a spokesman for the ministry of labour.

But officials cautioned the move would take time.

"Even if there was going to be an agreement to change the sectoral determinations, it is not something that is done overnight."

The opposition Democratic Alliance, which runs the Western cape government, had called on President Jacob Zuma to step in.

"The consequences of this crisis will be very severe, not only for the Western Cape but South Africa as a whole," leader Helen Zille said in an open letter to the president.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]