News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Thursday September 19th 2019

Cosatu, Passop call for release of Sotho farmworkers in De Doorns


Cosatu and refugee rights lobby group People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (Passop) have called for police to release Lesotho nationals arrested following ongoing farmworker strike at the Royal Mushrooms farm in De Doorns.

On Tuesday morning 35 Lesotho nationals, some of whom work on the farm, were arrested by local police on their way to join their colleagues who were camping outside the farm gates protesting for higher pay.

In a joint statement issued today Cosatu in the Western Cape and Passop claimed they have evidence that farm owner Hannes Jacobs requested police arrest the farm workers as they lacked asylum seeker or refugee documentation.

De Doorns police have denied taking orders from local farmers and Jacobs also denied the allegation, claiming he tried on many occasions to renew workers’ asylum papers in Cape Town without success.

On the same day some of the arrested Sothos were later released on condition that they appear in court on November 15 where they would be fined R2 500 for possessing expired asylum papers.

On Wednesday De Doorns police station commander Lt Cnl. Adri Kriel said immigration officers were at his station verifying whether the Sotho nationals in custody had legal documents to stay in the country.

He also said a number of those who were arrest were to be transferred to Pollsmoor Prison because no documentation, including expired permits, could be found for them.

Cosatu and Passop said they were “extremely disappointed” at the arrests and that the Department of Home Affairs was allegedly “deporting a group of about 20”.

In a statement, they said the workers had gone on strike to demand an increase from “the meager wages of around R640” a month for part time workers and “as little as R1300 a month for full time workers”.

They claimed to have recordings of the farmer of Royal Mushrooms demanding police arrest some of their workers for documentation issues.

“Such actions make believable allegations of corruption between farmers, police and home affairs department. The striking workers were both South African citizens and immigrants.

“The police and home affairs should steer away from being used by farmers as weapons to undermine attempts by workers to organize.

“It is shocking to observe that when farm workers have risen and demanded a living wage, the farmers who employ them while they are undocumented are the same people who call the police to report them.”

When contacted yesterday station spokesman captain Frederick Barnard strongly denied allegations that they were being ordered by farmers to arrest farmworkers who were foreign nationals.

He said police had to follow the law when making arrests and did not follow order from farmers.

He said those arrested were illegal immigrants, stressing set legal frameworks were followed when executing their duties.

Home Affairs spokeswoman Zandile Ratshitanga referred queries on the matter to her Western Cape provincial manager Yusuf Simons.

When contacted, Simons was said to be in a meeting but an indication was made that he would respond on the issue. He had not done so by the time of going to press.

Jacobs’ labour advisor Deon Jordaan said Jacobs did not request police arrest the Sotho workers.

He said the workers were engaged in an unprotected strike and were simply “blackmailing” the farmer.

The farm would not support wildcat strikes currently prevailing in the country and the workers should return to work.

He said Passop was stoking worker dissatisfaction which could result in farmers retrenching workers, particularly foreign nationals whose permits had lapsed.

“There are other ways to deal with this.”  – Francis Hweshe

Tags: Adri Kriel, Cosatu, De Doorns, Deon Jordaan, Frederick Barnard, Hannes Jacobs, passop, People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty, Royal Mushrooms farm, Yusuf Simons, Zandile Ratshitanga

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