Labour brokers fingered in De Doorns xenophobia report

Labour brokers may have been directly responsible for the tensions that led to last month’s xenophobia at De Doorns in the Western Cape, a study has suggested.

The study, by researcher Jean Pierre Misago of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Forced Migration Studies Programme, was released on Thursday.

Misago said Zimbabwean victims of the violence reported that the xenophobia was the culmination of long-standing tensions between Zimbabwean and South African labour brokers, known locally as contractors, or “spanners”.

He said there were as many as 80 labour brokers in the area, supplying local farmers with workers at a cost to each labourer of R5 a day, plus commissions from the farmers.

“South African contractors, particularly those from the Xhosa community, report dissatisfaction at income losses due to Zimbabwean contractors,” Misago said. “Some [people interviewed] report that dissatisfied labour brokers pressured local leaders and incited local residents to attack and chase Zimbabweans away.

“Such mobilisation was facilitated by the fact that some contractors are also ward committee members.”

Misago said what he was told did not provide conclusive evidence of incitement to violence.

But it suggested that any investigation into labour brokers’ role in the xenophobia should not be limited to exploitation of workers and the breaking of labour laws.

“It must also focus on labour brokers’ direct involvement in fuelling tensions and triggering the violence by inciting local residents,” he said.

Referring to locals’ complaints that Zimbabweans were “stealing jobs”, he said that according to Agri Wes-Cape there were so many jobs at harvest time that farmers even had to recruit workers from other towns.

Local South Africans occupied most seasonal jobs and almost all the better-paid permanent farmworker positions.

And though the South Africans believed the Zimbabweans worked for lower wages, farmers and the Zimbabweans themselves said everyone worked for the same seasonal wage of R60 a day.

Misago said those who proposed to reintegrate the displaced Zimbabweans into the communities they came from were ignoring clear messages from South African residents and contractors that they did not want Zimbabweans back in the settlements.

Community-level action should therefore focus not on reintegration, but on “building sustained mechanisms for inclusive and non-violent conflict resolution”.

De Doorns is a grape-growing centre in the Hex River Valley.

Last month about 3 000 Zimbabweans fled shack settlements in the area after being threatened with violence by locals.

They have been living in tents on a sports field in the town.

Deputy Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said at the end of November that the government would investigate the conduct of farmers and labour brokers.

“We are dealing with a problem caused by the exploitation of migrant workers by both labour brokers and farmers in the affected province,” he said.—Sapa


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