The Consulate General of China in Durban has called out the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government following the arrest of a Chinese national who allegedly held 12 South Africans in his factory during the national lockdown to manufacture medical masks.
"We were shocked at the arrest of a Chinese citizen working hard to help KZN in its fight against the virus and require that his legitimate rights be fully guaranteed, that a consular visit to him be arranged sooner and the case be thoroughly investigated prior to any conclusion in accordance with SA laws and international practice," the consulate said in a statement on Monday.
He Ming, 53, appeared in the Durban Magistrate's Court on Monday, where he was charged with contravening basic employment conditions by using forced labour, failing to maintain a safe working environment and failing to lock down a non-essential business.
"We have been providing support and will continue doing so to our best."
The consulate said Chinese citizens and companies in KZN always abide by South African laws and customs.
"At the same time, their legitimate rights and interests should be protected and ensured by SA and local governments according to international law and bilateral agreements."
Raided while trying to ' help ' KZN
The consulate said the factory, which was raided by the KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs' Consumer Protection Unit, was specially set up last week to help KZN fight against the coronavirus.
"The company, which has provided over 200 jobs in its other businesses across KZN and SA, commits itself to donating all facial masks to be manufactured in the factory during the lockdown period and none would be used for sale."
He, through his lawyers, claimed he had manufactured and donated 200 000 masks to the government.
"So far, it [the factory] has already made donations to the KZN government, police service and some hospitals. More could have been expected if the factory were not closed down today."
He's lawyers said the Chinese community and its businesses were proactive in KZN's economic and social development "and has made great contributions".
"Tens of thousands of jobs have been created in Durban, Newcastle and other municipalities. In addition, they have been active in charity activities."
During flooding in 2019, the Chinese community made a donation of blankets, biscuits, boots and other items valued at R1.4 million.
"We have full confidence that they would contribute more along with the growth of their businesses."
The lawyers said the lockdown was a difficult time and "all our efforts should be dedicated to fighting against the virus".
"It is hoped the case be handled and concluded properly and as soon as possible so that the factory as well as the whole Chinese community could concentrate its joint efforts with our KZN brothers and sisters on fighting against the virus."
Department spokesperson Ndabezinhle Sibiya did not comment on the case, referring News24 to the Department of Labour who was investigating it.
On Monday, Economic Development MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube said the department had received many reports of companies forcing factory employees to work.
"It is disturbing to learn about workers who are forced to work in groups of more than 300 in unhygienic conditions. This despite the fact that they are not performing essential services as stipulated by the Department of Trade and Industry," New24 reported her as saying.