19 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Concern Rises Over Safety of Immigrant Workers in SA

A refugee rights group in South Africa has raised concern about the safety of thousands of immigrant workers in that country, including many Zimbabwean nationals in the Western Cape.

The group, PASSOP, has warned that a number of foreigners in the De Doorns town could face potential deportation in the wake of 'inflammatory' comments by politicians in the province. De Doorns recently became the hub of violent farm worker strikes that spread to at least 16 small towns in the Western Cape, with workers demanding better wages and working conditions.

A strike in De Doorns in October saw 35 Sotho nationals arrested, allegedly for lack of documentation. They are now being held at the notorious Pollsmoor Prison ahead of potential deportation. PASSOP said the arrests are linked to claims made by politicians that tensions in De Doorns were the results of friction between Sotho and Zimbabwean nationals looking for seasonal work.

3,000 Zimbabweans were displaced in De Doorns three years ago as a result of an outbreak of xenophobic violence, which saw locals vent their anger over the lack of work in the area. The situation has remained tense ever since and PASSOP said the situation is not helped by "reckless comments" by politicians.

"We strongly reject claims that the strikes were started because of tensions between Sothos and Zimbabweans," said PASSOP's Langton Miriyoga.

He told SW Radio Africa that such comments "could result in more violence and displacements like we saw three years ago." He said the strike season in South Africa must not be "manipulated" by politicians, who are overlooking the key issues of working conditions and low wages.

PASSOP has remained active on the ground in De Doorns and said on Monday that frustrations there "were at an all time high."

"We have seen many farm owners, labour brokers and politicians trying to blame NGOs, political parties, unions, tensions between locals and immigrants, problems with documentation and even the media for strikes in the farming sector, but we think that these are all attempts to talk about issues other than the real issue of wages and working conditions," PASSOP said.

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