Tensions rising over South Africa's foreign workers

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Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa (Image by Flickr user Sokwanele - Zimbabwe (cc:by-nc-sa))

This article was originally reported by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

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A few months ago, violence broke the tranquility of South Africa's Hex River Valley, a mountainous region best known for its wine vineyards. Mike, a foreign worker, told PRI's "The World" what happened when Zimbabwean workers tried to go to work in the fields:

All the foreigners were told to go back to our places and pack our bags and leave. We should go to Zimbabwe that very same day and then they came to our houses, destroying our houses taking our things some even grabbing what they can to take to our places.

With the World Cup coming soon to the country, local South Africans are accusing the Zimbabweans of taking their jobs and driving down the price of labor. Many Zimbabweans deny both charges.

After the violence, some 1,500 of the area's Zimbabwean residents sought refuge in a tent village, created as temporary housing. "The World's" Laura Lynch visited the village and found squalid conditions including cramped living spaces and horribly unkempt portable toilets.

The Zimbabweans fled to South Africa in an attempt to escape the economic disaster in their home country. Though there are signs that Zimbabwe is improving, "The World" reports that repression and unrest lie barely hidden throughout the country. And as long as controversial President Robert Mugabe remains in power, the United States and western powers seem unlikely to drop sanctions against the country.

In spite of the hardships waiting for him, one worker told "The World" that he would like to return to Zimbabwe, were it not for the fact that his savings and possessions were taken when he was chased out of his home.

"What I've worked for has been taken. So, how can I go without something? I have worked very hard in these farms and all my property was taken," he told "The World." "I don’t have anything. I need some sort of compensation so that I can restart my life."

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More "The World."