The case against five suspects accused of human trafficking has been postponed to Monday to allow the Newcastle Magistrate’s Court to go through the new legislation dealing with human trafficking cases.
Magistrate Safiya Akram postponed the bail hearing of the five suspects before making a ruling. The accused include Qinglin Ye, 43, Jun Zhou, 40, Nomsa Vilakazi, 31, Kurkian Lin, 43, and Yuemei Tang, 42.
They all appeared in the Newcastle Magistrate’s Court on 42 counts of human trafficking. It emerged in court the victims were promised a wage of between R750 and R1000 a week.
The magistrate told the accused their case was very serious and it fell under Schedule 6 of the Criminal Procedure Act.
Senior prosecutor Branden van Staden said 72 people who were brought into South Africa from Swaziland and Lesotho to Newcastle were paid between R48 and R100 a week. He said these victims worked long hours from 7am to 10pm.
The five accused could be jailed for life if convicted. The victims, the court heard, were exploited by the accused and forced to work abnormal hours.
The victims were also allegedly assaulted and harassed to work very fast. It also emerged in court that 18 of the victims slept in one room which had a toilet, dish washing area and a bath.
The court also heard that Vilakazi, a Swazi national, was the kingpin in recruiting vulnerable and poor people from her country. The people who were recruited were allegedly brought into the country using visitors permits.
The state also alleges when the victims came late for work, R50 was deducted from their pay. The court heard the victims were sleeping on steel and wooden beds.
The lawyer for the accused, Johan Venter, told the court during the bail application his clients were not a flight risk. They did not have pending charges or previous criminal records against them.
He said the people recruited were allowed to visit their families and this did not border on human trafficking. He said his clients were also allowed to go to town and do shopping.
He said his clients were prepared and could afford to pay bail of R1 000 each.
The labour department has since shut the Newcastle textile factory where the Hawks rescued 72 foreign nationals allegedly trafficked from Swaziland and Lesotho as cheap labour.
Department spokesperson Teboho Thejane said an inspector who visited the factory after the rescue of the victims ordered the business to temporarily stop operations.
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