The seven are accused of human trafficking and violating labour laws.
The suspects were arrested on November 12, 2019 during a joint operation by the Department of Employment and Labour’s Inspection and Enforcement Services (IES) branch in Gauteng together with the police, Department of Home Affairs and Hawks.
The arrests followed a tip-off that the Chinese nationals were allegedly involved in the trafficking of illegal immigrants and subjecting them to forced labour.
Kevin Tsao, a naturalised South African, Chen Hui, Qin Li, Jiaqing Zhou, Ma Biao, Dai Junying and Zhang Zhilian allegedly brought 91 Malawian nationals, whom 37 were minor children, to South Africa using a middleman and subjecting them to forced labour.
The court also heard the Malawians working in the factory were transported to South Africa in containers.
The Malawians are alleged to have been brought to South Africa by a middleman known as “the transporter” who is still on the run.
The Gauteng Department of Labour’s chief inspector, advocate Michael Msiza, said the accused claimed the case against them was “flawed and non-existent”.
Msiza said Jan Christophe Kruger, who represents six of the seven accused, submitted the police had rushed to the scene and arrested the accused because they were intent on a quick prosecution.
“He told the court the Chinese nationals were in South Africa to work just like the Malawian nationals. Kruger argued the Chinese nationals deserved to be granted bail as they were not a flight risk,” he added.
It is alleged the accused were operating a factory called Beautiful City (Pty) Ltd in Village Deep, Johannesburg.
“During the raid, minor children were found to be employed at the factory, and the employer was violating 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 acts to the Unemployment Insurance Contributions Act.
“In an affidavit submitted by the police and Hawks in court, the authorities intend to charge the accused with [a] schedule six offence. The accused will face charges ranging from human trafficking, debt bondage, kidnapping and pointing of a firearm,” said Msiza.
He added Warrant Officer Lulama Kona had testified that CCTV footage confiscated during a joint raid was not ready to be presented in court as evidence.
The bail hearing will resume on January 29, and the seven accused have been remanded.