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51 SA teachers stranded in China after jobs scam

International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said her department was doing everything it could to ensure the safe return of the teachers.
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said her department was doing everything it could to ensure the safe return of the teachers.
Image: Dirco

An English teaching job in China for some 51 South Africans has become a nightmare. The young adults have had their passports confiscated by Chinese authorities because they did not have work permits.

The year-long teaching gig has transpired to be a scam masterminded by one Owen Wong, who has since been arrested along with an official from Changchun Guanghua University in China. The teachers were promised to be paid about R16000 per month.

Speaking to Sowetan yesterday over WhatsApp, Nicholas Holdsworth from Strubens Valley in Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg, is among the 51 teachers. He spent his 21st birthday in China.

He said they were informed by the Chinese authorities to keep mum on the developments around their case. "We cannot divulge any sensitive information pertaining to China and this situation other than our wellbeing. We can only let you know that they are treating us well and they are making sure we are alright."

A nine-page contract between Wong and the teachers includes a one-month probation period and non-disclosure of the employment contract.

Wong states in the contract that any "dispute" arising from the labour contract between both parties shall be governed by the laws of the People's Republic of China.

Sowetan understands that the group left at different periods last year. The group taught children aged between two and eight in pre-primary and primary schools.

The teachers' contract.
The teachers' contract.

Charl Venter, who speaks on behalf of parents who have formed a WhatsApp group to find a solution to the problem, said the teachers had conducted their interviews via social media prior to leaving for China.

"The kids were recruited here in South Africa after doing their interviews via Skype and via WeChat with the various schools. The schools then made an offer to the kids to come across to China."

He said Wong was able to arrange for all the teachers to go on a "study visa" with an understanding that they would stay at the Changchun Guanghua University for two weeks in order to familiarise themselves with the country and then convert their study visas over to a working visa.

"They were then told to go to their various schools to start working which they did, and worked for months on end receiving their salaries, but that has been disputed now."

Venter said three months ago, the teachers were asked to fly back to Changchun to attend some classes, where the immigration authorities confiscated their passports.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), alongside Minister of Police Bheki Cele and Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba are currently in talks with the Chinese authorities to get the teachers to return to the country.

Dirco spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya said the teachers were not the only ones in China, but there are "many more" South Africans who have fallen prey to such scams across the world.

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