The bail hearing of seven South Africans busted for allegedly running a human trafficking syndicate kicked off in the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court on Wednesday.
The suspects were arrested on November 12 at their Johannesburg factory during a joint operation led by the Department of Labour's inspection and enforcement services branch in Gauteng together with the police, Department of Home Affairs and Hawks.
Gauteng Department of Labour provincial chief inspector Michael Msiza said naturalised South Africans Kevin Tsao, Chen Hui, Qin Li, Jiaqing Zhou, Zhang Zhilian, Ma Biao and Dai Junying were arrested at a company called Beautiful City Pty Ltd in Village Deep, Johannesburg.
"The four male and three female suspects were arrested following a tip-off that they were allegedly involved in the trafficking of illegal immigrants and subjecting them to forced labour.
"During the raid, minor children were also found to be allegedly employed at the factory. The employer allegedly violated a suite of labour legislation ranging from the national minimum wage; occupational health and safety; basic conditions of employment; compensation for occupational injuries and diseases and unemployment insurance to unemployment insurance contributions acts.
"In an affidavit submitted by the police and Hawks in court, the authorities intend to charge the accused with schedule offence[s]. The accused will face charges of human trafficking, debt bondage, kidnapping and pointing of a firearm," said Msiza.
91 Malawian nationals
He added during the bail hearing, the court heard of the 91 Malawian nationals employed in the factory, who were found during the raid, 37 were children.
It was also revealed they were transported to South Africa in truck containers.
"Also contained in the affidavit submitted by the police and Hawks was that all the foreigners found on the premises had no documentation to be in South Africa, they were allegedly threatened with firearms and kept on the premises against their will behind high walls.
"Workers earned R6.50 per hour which is below the national minimum wage. They were also not contributing to the unemployment insurance and compensation for occupational injuries and diseases funds. It was found the premises were not complying to occupational health and safety standards.
"Workers were allegedly subjected to beatings and had no access to ablution facilities," said Msiza.
He added Tsao allegedly lied under oath in his affidavit by claiming he did not own a pistol.
It has since emerged he had applied for a legal firearm which was issued in 2018.
"The accused's lawyers submitted affidavits on their behalf in which they argue, among others, that they be granted bail because were not flight risks, will abide with bail conditions and were subjected to an unusual diet as well as appalling prison conditions," Msiza said.
The bail hearing is set to continue on Thursday.