South Africa politicians cashing in on Zimbabweans' misery

About 1,400 Zimbabwean nationals are still living in a temporary camp in De Doorns, 140km outside Cape Town, after being attacked by South Africans last month.

One might hope these attacks would cause politicians not to sleep from worry, but instead, the ANC, Congress of the People (Cope) and DA are all using the issue to conveniently further their own political agendas.

Grass-roots organisations blame labour brokers who supply farm workers to the Breede Valley region’s farms.

The spokesperson for the refugee rights group People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty (Passop), Braam Hanekom, told Sowetan: “This whole incident was a turf war between labour brokers. There are about 1000 labour brokers in a tiny place like De Doorns. It is a cut-throat environment that is a recipe for tension.

“Labour brokers employ Zimbabweans because they can take a larger cut of what the farmer pays. The whole attack was not instigated by poor South Africans – the frustration was there but it was exploited and instigated by jealous labour brokers who are fighting for business,” Hanekom said.

Sikhula Sonke farmworkers’ union general secretary Wendy Pekeur said: “Farmers used to employ workers directly who would live on the farms and get a minimum wage. Now they don’t want to accommodate them or take responsibility for holiday pay and the minimum wage”.

Pekeur said she had attended meetings at which brokers had admitted that they get “lump sums from the farmers”. They “decide whether workers get a minimum wage or not or whether to pay workers double on public holidays or not”.

But these facts do not suit the DA or Cope, who are in an alliance against the proposed ban on labour brokers.

After the De Doorns attacks Cope’s head office trumpeted: “We hear reports that labour brokers are being blamed for the current dissatisfaction. This is political opportunism at its worst. The real culprit is the ruling party’s lip service to rural development and false promises of job creation”.

The DA was even worse. After reports alleged that an ANC councillor was part of the attacks, DA MP Juanita Terblanche released a statement comparing the vicious attacks, during which 3000 people lost their possessions, to a minor incident in 2006 when chairs were thrown at DA leader Helen Zille in Crossroads.

Terblanche even said the attacks were nothing more than “the latest piece of evidence, in an ever-growing list, of the ANC operating outside the law, to undermine the DA government in the Western Cape”.

The ANC’s provincial task team (PTT), which has been in control of the ANC Western Cape since Luthuli House disbanded the former provincial executive, is also at fault. It has yet to take action against allegations that its ward councillor, Mpumelelo “Poyi” Lubisi, was involved in the attack.

Sowetan had an exclusive viewing of dozens of legal affidavits taken this week, many of which blame “Poyi” for the attacks.

“On 17th November 2009 I left for work. A roadblock of about 50 people … stopped everyone from going to work. I identified councillor Poyi. This councillor came to my house two weeks earlier and threatened to destroy my house because I had built a bathroom. Before he left he slapped me. Councillor Poyi was also present at a meeting in Ebaleni Hall on 16th November where he talked about destroying the houses of Zimbabweans” says one affidavit.

Another says that 10 days before the attacks “Poyi was coming to put electricity to the houses. He was walking with a group of guys saying ‘not this house, we are going to destroy it just now’.

“Poyi told me ‘you haven’t seen xenophobia yet, you are going to see xenophobia. He said they will destroy all the Zimbabweans’ houses”.

Another affidavit says: “I saw a woman from the council announcing on the loudhailer that the crowd must only destroy the houses but not to harm or beat anybody. The ward councillor was leading the group”.

Lubisi himself has denied all the allegations. He told Sowetan yesterday “they are lying. There were tensions because people were not working. I called a meeting to talk about the issues.”

He denied threatening to destroy houses during the electrification walkabout.

“That is about people who don’t have IDs. If you don’t have an ID you can’t register for an electrical box,” Lubisi said.

ANC PTT spokesperson Shaun Byneveldt told Sowetan that a report into Lubisi’s alleged actions would be considered next week.

But while the PTT takes its time considering reports, the ANC controlled municipality wants to close the displaced people’s camp and make Zimbabweans reintegrate.

Cape Town’s Legal Resources Centre is now opposing the camp closure, saying it would be unsafe for the Zimbabweans. Watch this space. The Sowetan