Undocumented foreigners arrested as police raided buildings in the Johannesburg CBD on Wednesday. File photo: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/African News Agency(ANA).
Johannesburg - Some of the foreign shop owners who were raided in the Joburg CBD for selling suspected counterfeit goods a fortnight ago are being accused of exploitation by their employees, who say they pay low wages while expecting them to work long hours.

The Sunday Independent conducted a random survey and spoke to some of the workers, mostly undocumented immigrants from neighbouring countries. They complained about their working conditions.

Robert Phiri* from Malawi, a trained teacher who came to South Africa three years ago and has been working for a Pakistani shop owner for the past two years, said he was working under difficult conditions.

Phiri said he came to South Africa looking for a better life but ended up a “slave”, adding that the police raids made things worse because he lost two days of his wages when the shops were closed.

“I work from 6am to 7pm seven days a week and I am only paid R750 per week. There are no lunch breaks or off days. I can’t get a proper job because I don’t have legal papers for me to work here.”

Kaunda Lungu* from Zambia, employed by an Ethiopian to sell counterfeit jeans and T-shirts on the pavement along Jeep Street, said he had no choice but to risk being arrested for selling “these goods”.

“I have been arrested twice by the police, but this time when they came I was lucky because I had gone to the toilet, but when I came back I found all my stock gone.

“The police took everything. I am here daily from 7am to 6pm or 7pm, depending on my sales.

“I get between R100 to R150 per day and at times I go home without a cent,” said Lungu.

Another worker, Thuli Ncube* from Zimbabwe, works for a Pakistani. Ncube said even though she worked normal hours, she was not happy about her low wages of R650 per week.

“Police always raid our shops, especially on month ends. I think what made this raid so violent is that the shop owners are tired of these raids,” said Ncube.

However, some shop owners vehemently denied violating labour conditions.

Mohammed Abdul*, a Somali shop owner who said he lost R275000 worth of goods during the raids, said he paid his three employees well.

“There is no money here, we are also struggling, but I pay them well,” said Abdul, who did not want to elaborate.

* Not their real names

Sunday Independent