Intimidation claims as KwaSizabantu strike is cancelled, security tries to grab journalist's phone

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
  • News24 was intimidated by the security head of KwaSizabantu Mission after attempting to cover a cancelled workers' strike.
  • Workers alleged that the mission's management intimidated them over the proposed strike.
  • They claimed they did not received full salaries for months on end, and one alleged that they were not provided with copies of their employment contracts.

A KwaSizabantu Mission employee attempted to prevent News24 and other media from reporting on a workers' strike that was scheduled to take place in the area on Monday, but was cancelled, allegedly due to intimidation.

Tobie Vermaak, head of mission security, approached News24 and the other television journalists and began taking pictures while parked outside the Saverite supermarket at KwaSizabantu.

Vermaak then attempted to knock down a News24 journalist's cellphone without warning. When he was told that he could not touch News24's property, he said: "That's wonderful."

He had a message for News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson: "Tell him I say, it seems to me that they know about things happening here before the news comes out, so it seems to me like they (News24) are sitting behind it (the news)."

The planned worker strike at the mission was cancelled on Monday, allegedly due to intimidation, according to workers.

Three employees of the mission's Emseni Farm and Ekhamanzi Springs spoke to News24 and other media and stated that, among other grievances they had, they did not receive full salaries in months, were allegedly bullied into cancelling the strike and had to endure difficult working conditions.

An Emseni farmworker, who was initially scared to speak out, said he was frustrated because he worked in poor working conditions and that the mission failed to pay full salaries.

ALSO READ | Tying the knot at KwaSizabantu: From strangers to best friends

The worker said they received salaries, but not as much as they should have been paid. His salary should be R3 500, but he was never paid that amount, he claimed.

"It's been a while since we started working here. It's been three years for me and I have never been paid R3 500 before. And if we enquire [about] salaries, they threaten to fire [us] or chase [us] away from the mission.

"I'm one of the employees [who is] not happy about working there. You end up regretting working for these people."

The worker said a lack of work in the area meant he had to continue with his employment there.

"But circumstances force us to work here as hard as it is. In so many instances, they hide their actions behind the church."

The people he referred to included his manager, whose name is known to News24.

"...If you have a work-related problem, they don't address it in a proper manner and threaten to fire you," the worker alleged. "It's not nice working for this mission."

"Our salaries have never been the same from the beginning because the money they pay us does not add up to R3 500. When you work for these people, you actually don't know how much you will get.

"One month it will reflect as R2 700 and the following month it will change to R2 500, so you are really not sure how much you earn per month.

"So they just say you are working for God, you are serving God if you work at the [mission]."

Employment contracts are not with us

The worker stated that when they signed employment contracts, it did not say how much they would be paid.

"They don't show any salary amount on the contracts, they just tell you your hourly rate. For example, as much as I know working a full day I should be getting paid R162.50. The reason we started fighting with them is because they dropped the amount to R124 per day."

READ | KwaSizabantu Mission: Let us have our dignity

The worker added that many wrongdoings were "hidden behind the church".

"If you do something wrong, they will use the church against you, but they themselves do not approach things in a religious manner.

"They will just dismiss you instantly and they are not as good-hearted and patient as a churchgoer should be. They should just shut down the church because it is as good as non-existent. This should be a workplace and nothing else."

The worker said he suspected that the strike did not go ahead after management at KwaSizabantu Mission spoke to employees.

"I think they were able to speak to the employees and able to stop them from going ahead with the strike. It is one we had planned and thought it was going to happen. I also had an intention to be part of the strike.

"They had promised to pay us R3 500 between Thursday and Friday but then it never happened. When we got bank notifications, the money they promised us was not there."

They told us we will be fired if we strike

An Ekhamanzi Springs worker, who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation, said the strike was halted due to intimidation.

"People were threatened not to leave the premises because they do not know who actually planned the strike. They were not allowed to go outside. Whoever leaves the premises must know they cannot get their job back."

The worker also said they did not get full salaries.

"No, we do not get our full salaries, they were dropped. They pay us ranging from around R1 000 to R3 500. No one gets paid more than that. As we speak, I don't even have groceries. I am already out of cash because of other monthly costs."

The worker also said that when they attempt to air their grievances "you get fired".

They did not have copies of their employment contracts, he also claimed.

"When you come to work to sign your contract, they give it to you, and you have to sign it then and there. They don't give you time to read it or make a copy of it and they keep the contract with them."

The worker further alleged that some employees worked but were not paid.

"Some have the problem that they worked the whole month and did not get paid. I myself and some others did get a bit of extra money after picketing [last month]. But the ones who worked the whole month did not get their pay. I do not know the reason they were not paid the amount. Some of them cannot even leave the premises because they threaten that they will chase them out completely."

Another farmworker from Ekhamanzi Springs confirmed that they were meant to strike.

"The strike was called off because we were told that if they went on strike, they were threatening that we would lose our jobs. Other workers are sad they could not be part of it."

News24 reached out to KwaSizabantu Mission and the mission's lawyer on Monday afternoon for a reply to various allegations.

Lawyer Bridget von Holdt replied on Monday evening: "There was no strike today. News24 was at the mission, so you would know that."

Last week, in correspondence last week about various matters, Von Holdt claimed News24 had "no interest in verifying the accuracy of the information it publishes".

"As you are no longer independent in the matter, we regret that we will not continue corresponding with News24 or affiliates at this stage."

Workers also downed tools last week in demand of better pay, News24 reported last week.

Do you want to know more about this topic? Sign up for one of News24's 33 newsletters to receive the information you want in your inbox. Special newsletters are available to subscribers.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
Voting Booth
When planning for the Black Friday sales do you:
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Save, research and plan ahead, preparing to make the most of it?
7% - 988 votes
Wait and see what looks like a good deal on the day?
14% - 1877 votes
Have no interest in spending more money this year?
79% - 10536 votes
Brent Crude
All Share
Top 40
Financial 15
Industrial 25
Resource 10
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo