Jeal­ousy blamed for grapes of wrath

‘Plenty of work for all’ as job bro­kers flour­ish

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - LYNNETTE JOHNS

ABOUT 30 labour bro­kers, many work­ing il­le­gally, are op­er­at­ing in the Hex River Val­ley and tak­ing a 10 per­cent cut from work­ers.

Zim­bab­weans have flooded into the val­ley over the past three years and a year ago the Depart­ment of Home Af­fairs es­tab­lished an of­fice there to deal with refugee applications.

But ten­sion has been build­ing, with lo­cal farm­work­ers claim­ing the Zim­bab­weans are “steal­ing” jobs by of­fer­ing their labour for lower wages.

The lo­cals went on the ram­page this week and more than 2 000 Zim­bab­wean work­ers fled. They are stay­ing in mar­quees on a sports field and be­ing fed by the Red Cross.

The labour bro­kers were ac­cused of play­ing a crit­i­cal role in cre­at­ing per­cep­tions that Zim­bab­weans were un­der­paid.

De Vil­liers Graaff, chair­man of the Hex Ta­ble Grapes As­so­ci­a­tion and one of 160 farm­ers in the val­ley, said yes­ter­day a small per­cent­age of bro­kers fleeced work­ers and had been side­lined by farm­ers.

“There are labour bro­kers who are le­gal and abide by the law and pro­vide a good ser­vice, but many are il­le­gal and mis­use their po­si­tions, de­duct­ing more than they are al­lowed to,” Graaff said.

Labour bro­kers were a rel­a­tively new phe­nom­e­non in the val­ley, while HIV/Aids, ur­ban­i­sa­tion and the wider avail­abil­ity of so­cial grants had se­verely de­pleted the pool of labour in the area.

Three years ago farm­ers would search for labour as far afield as Laings­burg, he said. Some peo­ple, see­ing an en­tre­pre­neur­ial op­por­tu­nity, rounded up work­ers and took 10 per­cent of their salary.

At the last count there were 30 labour bro­kers in the val­ley, in­clud­ing lo­cals and Zim­bab­weans. Many of the bro­kers lived in the in­for­mal set­tle­ment of Stofland, home to the Zim­bab­weans who fled.

“They pro­vided scarce labour to farm­ers and had a huge in­flu­ence in de­ter­min­ing which farm­ers would get labour,” Graaff said.

Farm­ers said Zim­bab­weans were re­li­able sea­sonal work­ers and this time of the year was crit­i­cal for the grapes, which will be har­vested in Jan­uary.

Farm­ers are des­per­ate for a suc­cess­ful har­vest. Last year, floods wiped out 800 hectares of grapes and the re­ces­sion put pres­sure on or­ders.

Graaff said lo­cal work­ers were of­ten ab­sent for two days a week, leav­ing farm­ers in a predica­ment. There was more than enough work for all, he added.

Labour bro­ker Sam­son Moosa said he had 25 work­ers on his books, in­clud­ing South Africans and Ba­sothos, and took 10 per­cent of their wages.

Austin Muyengwa, a Zim­bab­wean bro­ker who has refugee sta­tus, said he had peo­ple of all na­tion­al­i­ties on his books – “Xhosa, coloureds, Sothos, not just Zim­bab­weans”.

Muyengwa, who also takes 10 per­cent off their wages, said “con­tract­ing” did not make enough money. He and his wife Dorothy also had a tuck­shop, sold bedding and had a con­tract with farm­ers to pick grapes

‘We don’t drink our money, we save it. I saved for a long time and then I could buy my TV cash. They are jeal­ous of us’

and sell them.

Dorothy Muyengwa said: “That is where we make money, we pay peo­ple to pick grapes for us, we pay the farm­ers and then we sell the grapes.”

Zim­bab­weans at the camp said the com­mu­nity was jeal­ous of them.

“We don’t drink our money, we save it,” said Tal­ent Mutsinze, pulling out a re­ceipt for a TV. “You see this? I saved for a long time and then I could buy my TV cash. They are jeal­ous of us.”

Briv­elege Muyengwa said none of them had signed con­tracts with labour bro­kers but he was sure they were not be­ing cheated by farm­ers.

“Most of us are pre­pared to work over­time, so we also earn more money.”

A South African sea­sonal labourer, who de­clined to give his name, said his mother, a re­tired farm­worker, had wept when peo­ple were driven from their homes.

Lo­cals of­ten “got so drunk” at the week­end that they were too hun­gover to work on a Mon­day, he said. “There re­ally is enough work, there was no rea­son to chase the Zim­bab­weans away.”

Cosatu’s Mike Louw, a mem­ber of a task team set up to in­ves­ti­gate this week’s at­tacks, said th­ese had been caused by a range of is­sues. His fel­low task team mem­bers are Leonardo Goosen of the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion and the Speaker of the Breede Val­ley Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, Joe Jan­uary.

Louw said labour bro­kers, jeal­ousy, farm­ers who had failed to act when work­ers were ab­sent and so­cial grants might all have played a part.

The task team wanted to draw up a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing be­tween all par­ties. One of the clauses should be that farm­ers pay work­ers di­rectly.

Cosatu and busi­ness are locked in a bat­tle over a pro­posed ban on labour bro­kers.

Hex River farm­work­ers will have to work over­time to­day and next week to make up for not work­ing yes­ter­day.

Graaff said farm­ers re­jected al­le­ga­tions that they were re­spon­si­ble for xeno­pho­bic at­tacks on Zim­bab­weans by pay­ing them lower than the min­i­mum wage.

The Ta­ble Grapes As­so­ci­a­tion hit back at Deputy Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba for al­leg­ing that farm­ers’ ex­ploita­tion rather than xeno­pho­bia was the cause of the at­tacks. Graaff said Gi­gaba’s claims were “danger­ous” and that he was us­ing farm­ers as “scape­goats”.

He said farm­ers in the area paid im­mi­grants the R57 daily min­i­mum wage stipu---


THE DUST SET­TLES: The in­for­mal set­tle­ment of Stofland where the xeno­pho­bic at­tacks flared up this week, with the De Doorns vine­yards in the back­ground.

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