Zimbabweans stranded in SA finally get relief

Thupeyo Muleya Harare Bureau
The 90 Zimbabweans left stranded earlier this month at Liphalale police station in South Africa’s Limpopo province, after their employer fired and evicted them for demanding payment for overtime, have been transferred to a temporary shelter by well-wishers.

The group, which initially had 300 people, was transferred to Waterbase Disaster Management Centre by the Gift of the Care Givers on Tuesday morning.

Some of the members have returned to the homes, while others have relocated to other towns in that country.

A spokesperson for Gift of the Givers, Allauddin Sayed, confirmed yesterday that they had sent relief to the group.

“We’re giving them food and blankets. We’ve spoken to them and they’re appreciative,” said Sayed.

She said they would continue assessing the situation and helping the group until a solution to their problem was found.

The Zimbabwe Consulate has also sent a team to assess the situation on the ground.

Consul general Batiraishe Mukonoweshuro, was not available for comment last night.

The victims’ spokesperson, Thembani Ndlovu, said they had received tents, water and food from another nongovernmental organisation Hope for Food.

“The shelter and amenities here are better than the police station which had become our home for the last few days.

“Authorities from the Zimbabwean embassy here have also promised to help in resolving our labour dispute with our former employer. We’re very hopeful that a solution will be arrived at soon,” he said.

He said the numbers of people at the new place was rising by each day as those who had left earlier were coming back for assistance.

The Zimbabweans had been engaged by a commercial farmer, a T J Van der Walt, the proprietor of Johannesburg Farm in Liphalale area who evicted them at the beginning of December.

The farmer specialises in maize, tomatoes, onions and potatoes production. It is also reported that some of the members were kidnapped and assaulted by Van der Walt and nine other people including farm managers for voicing their concerns.

The farmer and the farm managers have since been charged with kidnapping and assault and will appear in court on 13 January for trial.

According to Ndlovu most of the victims had been employed at the farm since 2005 adding that Van Walt had facilitated the processing of their work permits though most of those have expired.

“We were working from 6AM to 11PM and being paid between R60 and R70 per day, which is below the government stipulated R103 if one works for eight hours per day.

“Things got worse in August when we engaged him over the review of the wages and the payment of overtime.

“He then fired all the workers and tried to get us deported to Zimbabwe but authorities at the department of Home Affairs said he should pay the money he owes to us first”.

Ndlovu said after being chased away from the farm they were taken back to the farm by the police and officials from the department t of labour.

He said since August they were staying in the farm compound without wages adding that the farmer cut water and electricity supply.

“During that period we weren’t allowed to move since he keeps our permits. He would beat you up if he came across you in the farm. Only at the beginning of December he came armed with his friends and started beating and shooting at us.

“He forcefully evicted us and also kidnapped those he felt were leading other workers astray. We then sought refuge at the police station where we are surviving on handouts from well-wishers,” said Ndlovu.

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