Johannesburg, May 1 (PTI) Seven Chinese nationals have appeared in court here to face a total of 160 criminal charges related to human trafficking and violation of the country’s labour laws, including employing illegal migrants and forced labour by children, the Department of Employment and Labour has said.
Six of the accused - Kevin Tsao Shu-Uei, Chen Hui, Qin Li, Jiaqing Zhou, Ma Biao, Dai Junying - are out on bail, while the seventh, Zhang Zhilian is in custody because she tried to flee the country while out on bail and was re-arrested at the OR Tambo International Airport.
All the accused have pleaded not guilty.
Musa Zondi, Acting Spokesperson for the Department, said it is involved in the matter to press for the prosecution of the accused for violating South Africa’s labour laws.
The seven were arrested for allegedly running an illegal enterprise in Johannesburg where they were processing the inner cotton of blankets using recycled clothing.
Their arrests followed a tip-off that the Chinese nationals were allegedly involved in the trafficking of illegal immigrants into South Africa and subjecting them to forced labour.
A raid on the factory by several government department officials and the police found 91 Malawian nationals, 37 of them children, who were allegedly transported from their home country in containers by an agent who is still being sought.
The company’s operations were allegedly carried out behind closed high steel gates with access strictly controlled by employers. Workers were also allegedly exposed to hazardous working conditions with no adherence to legal health and safety requirements.
One of the workers, Maxwell Kamanga, told the Johannesburg High Court that the workers at the Chinese factory were paid a salary of R65 a day, well below the South African prescribed minimum wage of R21 per hour. They were also expected to work seven days a week.
Legal counsel for the accused claimed that the Malawians working at the factory did so voluntarily.
The trial is continuing. PTI FH AMS