The only cigarette manufacturing company in KwaZulu-Natal, which is situated in Pietermaritzburg, has been forced to temporarily shut down after eight Chinese nationals, who were training staff to operate machinery, were arrested, apparently because of problems with their documentation.
They were arrested during a raid by the police’s Special Task Force Unit and officials from the Department of Home Affairs on the Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturing company, in Mkondeni, last Wednesday.
The company’s Yusuf Kajee said the shutdown of the company, which makes Kingdom, Malimbo and Carvela cigarettes, was costing thousands.
He said the company began manufacturing cigarettes in May after being awarded the required licence.
Machinery had been bought from a Chinese company which paid its staff to come to Pietermaritzburg to train local workers. “They are teaching our guys how to run it,” said Kajee.
He added that before the raid, Home Affairs officials had checked the Chinese trainers’ documentation and visas and told him he had nothing to worry about as everything was in order.
He was shocked when the officials and police returned last week, and damaged gates and doors at the factory, despite his offer to co-operate.
The damages amounted to R20 000, he said.
A non-profit organisation, the Crisis and Disaster Centre, and the employees of the company demonstrated outside the Department of Home Affairs yesterday and handed a memorandum to officials, demanding the release of the Chinese nationals.
Protester spokesman Ebrahim Shaik asked that the department keep their passports so that the Chinese nationals would not be able to leave the country, but release them to continue their work.
“About 60 people have lost their jobs due to the factory being unable to be in production and the detained Chinese people being unable to continue with their skills transfer.”
The protesters also demanded that the department stop using the special task force unit to “intimidate and violate human rights.”
The acting provincial head of the Department of Home Affairs, Albert Matsaung, said the Chinese were arrested because the documentation they had did not allow them to work at the company.
The Chinese nationals will appear in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court tomorrow. - The Mercury