RUSTENBURG - Seven Chinese nationals accused of human trafficking and violating South Africa's labour laws will know next week whether their bail application has succeeded.
According to the department of employment and labour, the defence and state closed their cases at the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court on Monday.
The defence was applying for bail on new grounds citing Covid-19. They were denied bail on 20 March, and the defence lodged a second bail attempt on new facts.
On 25 May, the court ruled that there were grounds for the defence to apply for bail. The prosecution had dismissed the submission by defence for a second bail attempt as the "reshuffling of old arguments as new facts".
Department spokesperson Teboho Thejane said defence lawyer Jan Kruger told the court keeping the accused in prison exposed them to Covid-19 and that media reports suggested conditions in prisons due to lack of personal protective equipment, chronic overcrowding, exposed the accused to the disease.
Kruger said the accused were not a flight risk because of closed borders. The state told the court it had a strong case against the accused and if convicted they faced life imprisonment.
Magistrate Basimane Molwana was expected to make his ruling on the bail application on 24 June.
Kevin Tsao, Chen Hui, Qin Li, Jiaqing Zhou, Ma Biao, Dai Junying, and Zhang Zhilian were arrested in November 2019 for allegedly running an illegal enterprise called Beautiful City in Village Deep, Johannesburg.
Their arrests followed a tip-off that the Chinese nationals were allegedly involved in the trafficking of illegal immigrants into South Africa and subjecting them to forced labour.
At least 91 Malawian nationals were found in the factory, 37 of them were children. During the bail hearing the court heard that the Malawians working in the Chinese factory were transported to South Africa using containers.
Tsao and six others are facing charges ranging from human trafficking, violation of Immigration Act, debt bondage, kidnapping and pointing a firearm.
The department of employment and labour has since joined in the matter to press for the prosecution of the accused for violating South Africa’s labour laws.