HomeNewsZim teen reveals farmworker exploitation in SA

Zim teen reveals farmworker exploitation in SA

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Lured from Johannesburg with empty promises for a better job, an albino teenager from Zimbabwe has spoken out about being exploited as a seasonal worker on an apple farm in Grabouw.

Tatenda Johannes (18) said a subcontractor took advantage of his desperation while he stayed at the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg, in April.

Along with other refugees, he was recruited to work on a temporary basis on the Grabouw farm as he hoped to earn better money and support his family back home.

He also planned to use the money to return to Zimbabwe and finish his Advanced Level studies in history of literature in English and divinity as he had dropped out of school because his parents could no longer afford the fees.

He said at the farm about 100 men and women were forced to sleep in a single dormitory and worked for up to 12 hours a day without knowing how much they would earn at the end of the week.

On paper, he said their contractor told them that they would earn R300 a week to prune apple trees, but once they got to the farm he was told he would earn R1 a tree.

Additionally, the full wages were never paid out as the only place they could purchase food was from a shop on the farm, which sold them at inflated prices and deducted money from their wages.At the end of the week, after deductions for necessary items such as cooking oil, rice, potatoes and soap, he would receive in the region of R80.

In his bid to prune as many trees as possible in the belief it would improve his earnings, he cut his hands and developed sores on his fair skin due to exposure to direct sun and a lack of protective working gear.

“I begged the manager if I could work in the shade and he said I would be fired if I kept complaining,” he said.

He said the wounds required a lotion which cost about R120, but he could not afford to buy it from his wages.

“Farm workers are desperate and they don’t know who to tell their stories of abuse to,” he said.
School-going children were also temporarily employed on the farm, according to Johannes, and he said he witnessed some of them being beaten after complaining about low pay.

The farm he worked on was untraceable according to the farm name he supplied, but farm worker lobby organisation Sikhula Sonke confirmed the occurrence of exploitation on farms in the province.
Programme manager Hendrietta Abrahams condemned the illegal deductions, saying in some instances a worker would only take home R2 a week after deductions from their wages.

She raised concern about farmers who preyed on desperate and undocumented foreign nationals, paying them wages lower than what local workers would accept.

Abrahams emphasised that both legal and illegal foreign nationals had the right to protection under the South African Labour Relations Act.

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