January 10, 2006

Government to regularise Zimbabwean farmworkers

A government-run facility that will regularise Zimbabwean farmworkers employed in South African farms is to be established in February in a reception and support centre for undocumented immigrants. "It is not going to be a recruitment agency - but we will provide work permits to Zimbabwean farmworkers [already employed] in the northern South African province of Limpopo, many of whom are currently illegally employed," Mokgadi Pela, a spokesman for the Ministry of Labour announced. The Nkunzi Development Association, an NGO championing the rights of South African farmworkers in Limpopo, contends that there are tens of thousands of Zimbabweans employed on farms in the province.

According to the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which is setting up the reception centre in collaboration with the governments of Zimbabwe and South Africa at the Beitbridge border post between the two countries, between 1.000 and 2.000 Zimbabweans are deported via Beitbridge every week. The centre, funded by British government's Department for International Development, will be operational in February.
Nkunzi's Mark Wegerif expressed concern that Zimbabwean workers were being hired by South African farmers to exploit their labour for poor wages and working conditions. "What measures have been placed to ensure that does not continue to happen?" However, Pela contended that the agency would ensure that "Zimbabwean workers are paid the wages as stipulated by the department and not exploited by some unscrupulous South African farmers". Farmworkers have to be paid a minimum monthly salary ranging between US $106 and $131 but illegal migrant workers sometimes do not get even half that amount.
Migrants with work permits would also have access to healthcare and legal rights, often denied to undocumented migrants, he added. Besides helping farmworkers, the centre will help deported migrants with transportation, food rations, basic healthcare, and information on HIV/AIDS.
Those announcements come after massive unrests in Choba squatter camp, which is located 20 miles south of the capital, after the murder of a South African owner of a hair saloon. According to the Daily Telegraph, groups of South Africans began afterwards attacking foreigners, with migrants from Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique among the victims. A group of Zimbabweans launched a retaliatory strike and hurled petrol bombs into shacks, assaulted the occupants and set cars ablaze. Two men were killed in fighting. One, a Zimbabwean, was burned to death. Robert Matshete, a local leader of the ruling African National Congress, said "xenophobia" among South Africans was a growing problem. (IRIN/The Daily Telegraph, London)

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