A Malawian national has testified in a human trafficking trial in the Johannesburg High Court of how he was once assaulted with fisticuffs by his employers and even witnessed a fellow Malawian being assaulted with a broom.

He was testifying in the trial involving seven Chinese nationals who were arrested in 2019 and are accused of 160 charges including human trafficking, child labour and a myriad of other labour law and human rights violations.  The accused are Kevin Tsao Shu-Uei, Chen Hui, Qin Li, Jiaqing Zhou, Ma Biao, Dai Junying, and Zhang Zhilian.

They have pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

Ndika Matola, 18, testified that he had arrived in South Africa at the age of 14 as a result of poverty back home.  He testified that he paid R2,400 to a taxi driver known as “the transporter” to travel to South Africa in 2017. He said that because he had no passport “the transporter” had taken care of everything at the border post, enabling him to travel to friend’s home in Benoni.

 He told the court that a friend had helped him to find employment in Benoni at a factory, allegedly owned by Chen Hui, which was manufacturing fibre. He said his task was to cut material using a machine. He said he was trained by other fellow Malawians who were working at the factory on how to operate the machine. He was earning R80-a-day, doing a 7pm-7am shift.

Hui’s defence advocate Jannie Kruger had earlier objected to the accused being asked his date of birth, arguing that it was difficult to estimate the age of the witness. He said evidence by the witness should be treated as hearsay.

The accused are facing schedule six offences which relate to contravention of SA’s labour laws, prevention and combating of trafficking in persons, contravention of  the Immigration Act, knowingly employing illegal foreigners, kidnapping, 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, and failure to comply with duties of an employer.

Matola alleged that that at Beautiful City assaults and insults were a common feature and claimed he was once assaulted with fisticuffs and also witnessed a fellow Malawian being assaulted with a broom. He said workers at the factory were not allowed to leave the premises and had to use a shop inside the yard. Those without cash were extended credit at inflated prices, he said. 

He said workers were denied ablution facilities expect for during breaks. He said workers who wanted to use the toilet during working hours risked having R20 deducted from their pay. Cellphones and radios were not allowed and if these were found in the workers’ possession they were destroyed. 

The accused are out on a bail, except for Zhang Zhilian, who is being held in custody because she violated bail conditions by attempting to flee the country on 24 February 2021 violated. She was arrested at the OR Tambo International Airport.

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Presh JM Reporter

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