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Zwelihle Renewal demands lists of names of immigrants employed in Hermanus

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“Gangster type approach” says human rights activist

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The Western Cape Department of Labour has distanced itself from a circular by Zwelihle Renewal in Hermanus demanding that local businesses have no more than 10% foreign nationals as employees. Photo: Tariro Washinyira
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Last week, the Zwelihle Renewal group distributed a circular to several business owners in Hermanus demanding a list by 16 July of all employees and their nationalities, among other things. It requested proof that immigrant employees are in the country legally.

CEO of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA), Gerhard Papenfus, said that employers are not obliged to adhere to any of the demands. Only, employers must ensure “that all foreigners employed are in possession of valid work permits,” he said.

“This memorandum serves to inform you that in order for there to be peace and stability in Hermanus, for xenophobia to be curbed, and for the long term sustainability and prosperity of the Overstrand region it is imperative that you employ 90% South Africans and 10% foreigners,” said the Zwelihle circular.

In a letter addressed to the Whale Coast Business Forum (WCBCF) Papenfus wrote: “The demands in respect of the non-employment of foreigners and accompanied violence have been prevalent across the country and has led to a number of injuries, deaths and millions in damages.”

Papenfus said there is no law preventing an employer from employing a foreign national with a valid work permit or visa.

He said that the Minister of Employment and Labour in December 2018 published draft regulations for the Employment Service Act which indicated that a 60:40 ratio may be implemented.

“This, however pertains to the granting of visas to foreigners and has in any event not been implemented yet. Foreigners, both legal and illegal, enjoy the same constitutional rights to fair labour practises and can therefore not simply be dismissed, least of all by a third party,” he said.

“Although it is a function of the department of labour to promote peace, it is also their function to be the guardian of labour rights and processes,” he said.

“It is unfortunate that the department has elected to engage with this entity [Zwelihle Renewal] as it, to some extent, gives them a measure of legitimacy,” Papenfus said.

In response to questions by GroundUp, Zwelihle Renewal said: “It simply means department of labour failed the community and if the community can not stand up, the injustices will continue.”

Spokesperson Candice van Reenen for the Western Cape Department of Labour said, “The department has no affiliation to the [Zwelihle Renewal] circular and we are distancing ourselves from it.”

Van Reenen said its inspectorate conducted regular inspections in the area to test compliance. “At an earlier meeting of all parties, it was agreed by all that the department will continue its fact-finding in the community and we appeal to the authors of the circular to allow the department to do its work,” she said.

Immigrant rights activist Anthony Muteti condemned any attempts to use labour issues as a cover for xenophobia. He said: “Where in hell have you ever heard communities determining who gets employed and who doesn’t? It is a gangster type of approach where they think they can dictate to employers what they want done and even stating the percentages. The community is not Home Affairs to demand that foreigners provide them with personal details. They are not a legal authority to make such demands.”

Muteti said an employer has a choice to hire the best qualified person. He said he does not condone the employment of undocumented immigrants since it is usually done for exploitative reasons.

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Letters

Dear Editor

The Department of Home Affairs conducted checks on foreign nationals at several Hermanus restaurants yesterday in a way more reminiscent of police raids than immigration checks. This despite the "Zwelihle Renewal" led labour complaints earlier this year where officials from the Department of Labour and the Department of Home Affairs had checked the same restaurants for compliance at the insistence of the Zelihle Renewal than there were irregularities.

Those checks led to very little in reality with most employers already compliant and most employing a majority of local workers anyway. So no smoking gun for ZR. The outcome though is that many of the restaurants are now not employing foreign locals because of threats made by ZR and the DHA.

So what was yesterday all about? When does it stop being policy enforcement and start being harassment? Is the DHA now working for local xenophobes or carrying out policy? This despite the President's assurances that everyone is welcome in South Africa.

Several foreigners were detained because they did not have their papers with them and South Africa staff that protested at their removal by the SAP, were threatened with arrest. Some foreigners were detained overnight till they could produce the appropriate documentation. As far as I can determine, all foreigners detained were able to prove they were legally in South Africa and legally working and there were no arrests. Not surprising since these checks were already made in July, but at what point is this state-sanctioned legal harassment?