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