Jealousy blamed for grapes of wrath
‘Plenty of work for all’ as job brokers flourish
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.