HARARE, Zimbabwe (PANA)–South African Labor Minister Membathisi Mdladlana said recently that White farmers in his country grossly exploited Zimbabwean immigrant farm workers, most of whom entered the country illegally.
Mr. Mdladlana was in Harare for talks with his Zimbabwean counterpart on how to harmonize labor laws between the two countries when he made the statements. An estimated two million Zimbabweans live and work in South Africa, the majority of them on farms.
Mr. Mdladlana said some South African White farmers were involved in illegal recruitment of Zimbabwean farm workers, whom they preferred to locals because they were easy to exploit in terms of underpayment.
“We do not want a situation where Whites exploit our people and cause them to fight among themselves (South African and Zimbabwean workers for job opportunities). We do not want a situation in which workers on farms are ill-treated just because they come from Zimbabwe. I want those Zimbabwean farm workers to benefit from the minimum wage and other basic conditions for workers,” he said.
The Minister added: “The Zimbabwean farm workers must be treated as humans. The only way is to regulate their recruitment and stop the illegal recruitment being done by farmers. These workers are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and their dignity is not protected.”
The Labor minister added that White farmers also are unwilling to sell farms to the government for resettlement, thus are hampering land reform in South Africa.
He told journalists on a tour of a resettlement area in Zimbabwe that the South African government was increasingly frustrated by the slow pace the “willing-seller, willing-buyer” land reform concept was progressing in the country.
“We do have a land reform program in South Africa, on a willing-seller, willing-buyer basis, but it is not as fast as we thought it would be. It takes time,” he said.
Most South African White farmers were unwilling to give up their properties to the government for resettlement, he said. Their refusal to participate in land reform is causing political pressure to build among landless Blacks in the country.
“The negotiations (for land acquisitions) do not move as fast as the government and the people would want,” he said.
Zimbabwe had a similar willing-seller, willing-buyer land reform program in place for some 20 years after independence, but recently abandoned it after facing resistance from White farmers.
It has since forcibly seized farms from White farmers to re-distribute to peasants after they started occupying commercial farms demanding resettlement.
Meanwhile, Washington plans to tighten targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe over alleged human rights violations and electoral irregularities, a U.S. diplomat recently said in Harare.
But Heather Merritt said she did not know the scope of the sanctions planned by Washington, which last year banned President Robert Mugabe and other officials of his government from traveling to the U.S., and also froze their personal assets in the U.S.
The U.S. has accused Mr. Mugabe of rigging Zimbabwe’s presidential election last March, and of abusing human rights.
Harare has denied the charges, saying they are motivated by a desire by the U.S. to undermine Pres. Mugabe’s controversial seizure of farms from Whites to resettle landless Black peasants.
The government announced it would not lose sleep over the threatened new American sanctions, but the main opposition welcomed the move.
“It is an intention and we do not give serious thought to intentions, after all, we are already under sanctions, so what more sanctions do they want to impose?” asked government spokesman George Charamba.
But Paul Nyathi, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said: “If they are targeted sanctions, then we would welcome them, but we are against sanctions against the country as a whole.”