brokers under fire

LABOUR brokers might have been responsible for the tensions that led to last month's xenophobia at De Doorns in Western Cape, a study has suggested.

LABOUR brokers might have been responsible for the tensions that led to last month's xenophobia at De Doorns in Western Cape, a study has suggested.

The study by researcher Jean Pierre Misago of the University of the Witwatersrand's Forced Migration Studies Programme was released yesterday.

Misago said Zimbabwean victims of violence said the xenophobia was the culmination of long-standing tensions between Zimbabwean and local labour brokers, known as contractors or "spanners".

He said there were as many as 80 brokers in the area supplying local farmers with workers at a cost to each labourer of R5 a day plus commissions from the farmers.

"South African contractors, particularly those from the Xhosa community, are unhappy about income losses due to Zimbabwean contractors," Misago said.

"Some [people interviewed] report that dissatisfied labour brokers put pressure on local leaders and incited local residents to attack and chase Zimbabweans away.

"Such mobilisation was facilitated by the fact that certain contractors are also ward committee members."

Misago said what he was told did not provide conclusive evidence of incitement to violence.

But it suggested that any investigation into labour brokers' role in the xenophobia should not be limited to exploitation of workers.

"It must focus on brokers' direct involvement in fuelling tensions and triggering the violence by inciting local residents," he said.

Referring to locals' complaints that Zimbabweans were "stealing jobs", he said that according to Agri Wes-Cape there were so many jobs at harvest time that farmers had to recruit workers from other towns.

Locals occupied most seasonal jobs and almost all the better-paid permanent farmworker positions.

And though South Africans believed Zimbaweans worked for lower wages, farmers and the Zimbabweans themselves said everyone worked for the same R60 a day.

Misago said those who wanted to reintegrate displaced Zimbabweans into communities were ignoring clear messages from residents and contractors that they did not want the Zimbabweans back.

Community-level action should therefore focus on "building sustained mechanisms for inclusive conflict resolution".

De Doorns is a grape-growing centre in the Hex River Valley. Last month 3000 Zimbabweans fled shacks in the area after being threatened by locals. - Sapa

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