Tuesday, June 25, 2013

(HERALD ZW) Harrowing experience at SA’s Lindela camp
Sunday, 16 June 2013 00:00
Henry Tawanda

The hatred of foreigners reared its ugly head recently as thousands of Zimbabweans were stranded at the notorious Lindela detention facility in Krugersdorp in South Africa.

Angry police details shouting profanities at absent presidents Joyce Banda, Robert Mugabe, Joseph Kabila and others of countries in Africa bundled this writer together with several other foreigners into a police truck and dumped at a police station for three days regardless that it was a Sunday, Monday being a working day! The arrests were done with peerless verve and passion reminiscent of the apartheid spirit that manifested hatred and an air of superiority albeit the arresting officers being black!

Apartheid was the system of segregation used by De Klerk, Piki Botha and their police and army cronies whose interests was a narrow hatred of Africans and their skin regardless of their education, social class or overall contribution to the economy.

From around May police from Rustenberg, Johannesburg, Durban, Bloemfontein - basically the whole of South Africa moved around in intimidating fashion, from riding on horse back to police scrimmaging using trucks, armed to the teeth, preying on desperate and hard-working foreigners they could see at gates of homesteads, workplaces and malls.

The officers would immediately pull guns, search and shut victims into trucks without charging or fully informing them of their rights. These police details were on a serious mission as 90 percent of the inmates this writer interviewed protested that they had been bundled from complexes and informal workplaces despite informing the authorities they had documents at their houses.

They spent needless days holed up in police cells and were only released on the day their papers arrived. Those whose papers were not in order find themselves trekking to the infamous Lindela deportation facility.

Further to the mere inconvenience of detention, it seems only the lucky people left the mind-numbing institution in good time. A classic case of human rights abuse by institutional inadequacies was on a pastor from Kenya.

After recounting his story to me we sat down for three solid days and gave birth to a non-governmental organisation that has a clear mandate to assist African governments and migrants on life at Lindela and livelihood after deportation.

Deportation is always sudden and as such disturbs the normal flow of life. Deported people always come home with mere clothes that are on their bodies, leaving behind unpaid salaries, wives and children (95% of deportees are male!)

To put this scourge into clear perspective the pastor’s story is apt as it shows a lot of issues that are at play in this problem. We shared the 42 bed cell with pastor Mhuchu, a Kenyan who was moving from South Africa to Botswana. On approaching the immigration officers he was stopped in his tracks at Kopfontein, the Thlokweni border post on May 19.

After presenting his passport to the immigration officials, he was immediately taken from the queue by an immigration officer whose name on the name-tag was inscribed Jeremiah. Jeremiah swiftly advised the pentecostal pastor that the permit was illegitimate. He quickly laid fraud charges and organised with the police to transport him to Grootmarico, 130 kilometres away on the same day.

He stayed in the Grootmarico cells through Sunday the 20th. On Monday the 21st he was due to appear before a magistrate at Lehurutse about 70 kilometres away. While still in the holding cells the police man with whom he came arrived with another gentleman who asked him how much he had. He advised the duo that he had 300 pula which they took and changed. An invoice was printed on bond paper registered by one E Sethedi and authorised by one R Kokoane.

The most baffling issue with this was how he could say he had 300 pula and they would say its fine and proceed to produce an A4 bond invoice. This writer had the priviledge to look at the printout and share the eerie feeling of being ripped off together with the man of the cloth. The gentleman was immediately whisked to Hieverdient on May 22 where he was issued with a notification of deportation (Section 7 (1)(g) read with sectin 34 (1)a .

He was kept at the centre for 15 chilling days with one set of clothes. He was hauled to Lindela on May 5 , I departed on 12 May and he had no respite in sight 24 days later. He remains in the dark as to when he shall land in Kenya as he is still to get his passport back.

The questions to ask range from what the police could have done to arrest the conniving agent who prepared the expensive fake permit using the pastor as a state witness to why they charged him 300 rands to eliminate the fraud case needlessly raised on him.

As a result of this system of victimization, the actual culprits - the fake agents who in some instances claim to be lawyers will dupe more people while the government’s attention will remain inexplicably gazed at the wrong people, the desperate job and documents seekers.

Lindela does not only house the hapless and innocent job seekers. A Tanzanian national, Hakim was good enough to recount his sad story. Hakim was coming from prison, Suncity. His arrest came by in 2004 when he was arrested at OR Tambo for drug possession. He was released on May 20 2013. By the time I left on June 12 he was getting yellow with frustration at the authorities.

On entering prison, US$500 was declared as his possession, a passport and his air ticket back to native Tanzania. However on release date, 9 years later he could get neither his money nor his passport.

More experienced drug mules from Brazil were claiming that in Europe the government is so good as to sell the ticket and credit the money to the prisoner such that by the time they finish their sentences they would be swiftly deported using the funds rather than government money.

The Lindela jury comprised of keen inmates trying to make sense of their predicament sat and condemned this as an act of police petty theft and wanton abuse of priviledge.

Tanzanians, Malawians, Nigerians and Ugandans told of harrowing tales, staying at the facility for two months and more.

Constitutionally this could be written down somewhere but that does not make it any just.

The mental and psychological torture, loss of time, income and uncertainty and loss of face when you land home clad in the only clothes on the person are issues to consider.

Crime is a major concern in South Africa but the paradox lies in the fact that two thirds of deported individuals that I interviewed were determined to come back as they had specific jobs they were doing. Which then makes sense to register Zimbabweans on a second phase of the Documentation of Zimbabweans Project as phase two before the expiry of the ones issued in 2010.

Other governments such as the DRC, CAR, Tanzania and Uganda also need to ensure that their Citizens are protected by entering into bi-lateral arrangements to get the best conditions for their immigrants.

This writer together with a couple of detainees had the unfortunate realization that the esteemed agents that took care of permit applications on our behalf had actually processed non-existant documents! The home affairs personnel that visited the police cells were the harbingers of that sad news.

In the face of a possible reprieve, we found ourselves staring possible fraud charges thereby condemning us to the despicable Lindela deportation centre. That quickly put the question of the DZP (Documentation for Zimbawean Professionals) documents under discussion.

As of the deportation that occurred on June 12 2013, six buses crossed Beitbridge Border Post and only three buses under the auspices of the International Organisation for Migration made their way into inland Zimbabwe. Three buses worth of immigrants made their illegal way back into South Africa on the same day. It is baffling on a cost and efficacy level as it is clearly not the solution in the eyes of the affected.

According to Kubatana.net, “About 276 000 Zimbabweans applied for work, business and study permits under the ZDP, according to South Africa’s Home Affairs Department - a fraction of the 1 to 1,5 million Zimbabwean migrants that the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimated were living in the country.

As the ZDP project concluded, South Africa lifted the moratorium on deportations in October 2011. Since then, IOM says it has assisted 50 635 returnees - an average of 2 600 deportees per month - at the Beitbridge Reception and Support Centre at South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe’’

To aid the IOM’s mission, The Pan African Migrant Rehabilitation and Re-integration organisation, PAMiRR has been formed. It hopes to make alliances with the ministry of Youth and Indigenisation, United Nations High Commission for Refugees, The International Organization For Migration and other organisations that are keen to support governments to take care of its people.

The model is a synergistic approach that seeks to utilize all these organisations’ core strengths while directly managing events at Lindela in the first Phase and other detention centres around the world that hold Africans for deportation.

Funds that will directly benefit deportee projects will not only be a source of direct foreign investment, rather it will be a source of employment and a motivation to banish the illegal immigrant phenomenon.

The money that the South African government has used to cater for illegal immigrants by way of deportations could be gainfully used to document the reasonably skilled immigrants that are participating in the economy.

The current back log of applications needs to be cleared so as to encourage meaningful participation in economic affairs by foreigners and to curb crime.

The police needs to handle itself with decorum and respect the rights of all people regardless of economic standing and nationality. Holding centres such as Lindela need to be better equipped to give deportees a humane deportation experience rather than maintaining a medium security prison aura. Food for thought for governments and Non-Governmental Organisations.

Henry Tawanda is a marketing and humanitarian practitioner keen on playing a part in ensuring that governments and NGOs participate in availing funds for reintegration and rehabilitation of deportees into the economies and societies they came from originally.

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