A South African farmer from Limpopo province has been taken to court for allegedly abusing and underpaying 300 Zimbabwean farm workers whom he owes over R1,6 million in salary arrears.
The money accrued over 10 years. Van der Walt, the proprietor of Johannesburg Farm in Liphalale area and nine other top managers were charged by police for assault and kidnapping of the Zimbabweans.He has also been separately charged by the Department of Home Affairs for employing illegal immigrants.
The Department of Labour has also filed another charge of labour exploitation.
The trial, however, failed to take off at the Liphalale Magistrate Court on Tuesday after some key witnesses did not show up. The matter was postponed to November 28 to allow the state to locate some of the witnesses, who have since left the town (Liphalale).
At least 15 people are expected to testify against Mr Van der Walt.
The farmer is accused of forcing the Zimbabweans to work from 6am to 11pm and paying them R70, instead of the government-stipulated R103 for an eight hour shift per day.
Limpopo province’s Department of Labour spokesperson, Miss Lerato Makomene, said they will take further action against him, depending on the verdict from the court.
“All the charges including criminal and violating labour and immigration laws have been combined.
Miss Makomene said the farmer had tried to play hide and seek with the authorities so as to frustrate the witnesses, adding that they were not dropping the case until justice prevails.
The expelled workers’ spokesperson, Mr Thembani Ndlovu, who is a former foreman at the farm, said the Department of Labour was handing the matter.
He said the farmer had tried to approach some of the disgruntled farm workers for them to drop the charges and get back their jobs without success.
“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),” he said.
Mr Ndlovu said most of the victims dispersed from the Water base Disaster Management centre, when 36 others were deported to Zimbabwe after becoming stranded.
He said they were still in contact with those who have been sent home and that they will be paid their money through the Zimbabwe Consulate as soon as the matter was finalised.
“Most of the workers have been 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 specialized in maize, tomatoes, onions and potatoes production. herald