A witness in the trial of seven Chinese nationals facing human trafficking and child labour charges has detailed horrific working conditions and human right violations endured by workers in a Johannesburg factory.
In a statement on Monday, Malawi national Fraser Aufi, in the Johannesburg High Court testified that, at the factory, he and his fellow nationals were subjected to long working hours, debt bondage, hazardous working conditions, insults, assaults and violation of basic human rights by the accused.
Aufi, said the department, testified that his dream of becoming an entrepreneur was shattered the day he set his foot at Beautiful City Pty Ltd, the company that employed them.
“His dream when he came into South Africa back in 2017 was to get work and go back home to open and run his own business. However, after being subjected to slavery-like working conditions that dream has now disappeared,” said the department.
Aufi was continuing on his testimony detailing the alleged trail of abuse he suffered in the hands of his employer.
Seven Chinese nationals were arrested in November 2019 for alleged human trafficking and violation of the country’s labour laws. They are: Kevin Tsao Shu-Uei, Chen Hui, Qin Li, Jiaqing Zhou, Ma Biao, Dai Junying, and Zhang Zhilian.
“The accused are facing schedule six offences. They are charged with 160 counts of crime ranging from contravention of labour laws, human trafficking, kidnapping, contravention of Immigration Act, pointing a firearm, debt bondage, benefitting from the services of a victim of trafficking, conduct that facilitates trafficking, illegally assisting person(s) to remain in South Africa, knowingly employing illegal foreigners, and failure to comply with duties of an employer,” reads the statement.
The accused are out on a bail, with the exception of Zhang Zhilian who is now in custody after she violated her bail conditions by trying to flee the country in February. She was arrested at the OR Tambo International Airport.
The seven accused were arrested for allegedly running an illegal enterprise called Beautiful City Pty Ltd located at Village Deep in Johannesburg after a joint operation by the Department’s Inspection and Enforcement Services (IES), together with the South African Police Services (SAPS), Department of Home Affairs and the Hawks Unit.
Aufi told the Court that initially the Chinese refused to open the gates until the police climbed over the gates to free them and how the accused tried to “bribe” the police with food.
The witness had testified earlier that during his stay at the factory he was once injured on a rib while working on a machine and has witnessed a number of injuries suffered by fellow workers including suffering fractures, and chopped fingers by machines. He told the Court that he was never compensated for his injuries.
The accused have pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Aufi testified that except for a few Malawians that have since left most of the Malawians freed from the Chinese factory were now under police care and have been told that their status would be resolved after the Chinese trial.
The trial continues today.