Trial date set for SA farmer who owes Zim work­ers R1,6 mil­lion

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News - Thu­peyo Mu­leya Beit­bridge Bureau

THE trial of a South African farmer who is ac­cused of abus­ing 300 Zim­bab­wean farm work­ers whom he owes over R1, 6 mil­lion in 10 years’ out­stand­ing salaries has been set for Novem­ber 28.

Mr Van der Walt, the pro­pri­etor of Jo­han­nes­burg Farm in Lim­popo prov­ince’s Lepha­lale area and nine other top man­agers were charged for as­sault­ing and kid­nap­ping Zim­bab­weans.

He has also been sep­a­rately charged by the De­part­ment of Home Af­fairs for em­ploy­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants, while the De­part­ment of Labour has also filed another charge of labour ex­ploita­tion against him.

The dis­grun­tled work­ers spokesper­son, Mr Them­bani Ndlovu, yes­ter­day said the farmer’s trial failed to take off on Mon­day at the Lepha­lale Mag­is­trate’s court when some key wit­nesses failed to show up, but they will be back in court on Novem­ber 28.

He said the State was yet to lo­cate some of the wit­nesses who have moved to other towns in that coun­try, while oth­ers are among 36 work­ers who were de­ported back to Zim­babwe last year.

Some of the peo­ple were de­ported af­ter they be­came des­ti­tute and that coun­try’s Home Af­fairs De­part­ment and the Zim­babwe Con­sulate are re­ported to be work­ing to­gether in fa­cil­i­tat­ing their court ap­pear­ance.

At least 15 peo­ple are ex­pected to tes­tify against Mr Van der Walt.

“The De­part­ment of Labour is as­sist­ing us in en­sur­ing that jus­tice pre­vails and that Mr Van der Walt pays the money he owes us. We are very hope­ful that we will suc­ceed, es­pe­cially that we are get­ting as­sis­tance from sev­eral stake­hold­ers in­clud­ing the Zim­babwe Con­sulate here (South Africa),”Mr Ndlovu said.

He said they were still in con­tact with those who were de­ported and they ex­pect that they would be paid their money through the Zim­babwe Con­sulate as soon as the mat­ter has been fi­nalised.

“Most of the work­ers were em­ployed at the farm for over 10 years. Mr Van der Walt is the one who pro­cessed their work per­mits though most of these have ex­pired,” said Mr Ndlovu.

He said Mr Van der Walt spe­cialised in maize, toma­toes, onions and potato pro­duc­tion.

Mr Ndlovu said the farmer forced them to work from 6AM to 11PM, pay­ing them R70 in­stead of the gov­ern­ment stip­u­lated R103 for an eight hour shift per day.

“He has been try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with some of the work­ers for a truce in re­turn for their previous jobs and many have turned him down. At the mo­ment he has en­gaged seven peo­ple,” said Mr Ndlovu.

Lim­popo prov­ince’s De­part­ment of Labour spokesper­son, Miss Ler­ato Makomene, could not be reached for com­ment yes­ter­day but re­cently she said they would take fur­ther ac­tion against the farmer de­pend­ing on the ver­dict from the court.

She said all the charges in­clud­ing crim­i­nal and vi­o­lat­ing labour and im­mi­gra­tion laws have been com­bined.

“We have tried to bring him to the round ta­ble with­out suc­cess and hence we had to resort to le­gal ac­tion. We are very hope­ful that the mat­ter will be re­solved as mat­ter of urgency,” Miss Makomene said.

She said the farmer had tried to play hide and seek so as to frus­trate wit­nesses, but they were not drop­ping the case un­til jus­tice pre­vails.

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