Peeing into a plastic bottle on the long road from Lindela

Detainees in Lindela awaiting deportation. Photo by Luck Katenhe.

Tariro Washinyira

27 October 2014

Tapiwa, 35, was deported to Zimbabwe in August via the notorious Lindela Repatriation Centre. A few days later, he was back in South Africa. He told Tariro Washinyira his story.

Tapiwa (not his real name) was picked up by police during a raid in July. He was held in Pollsmoor Prison, then transferred and deported early in August.

He spent 14 days in Lindela.

Room 86 was furnished with ten bunk beds, all occupied. Tapiwa, who has a medical problem that requires the use of a catheter, was given one blanket and slept on the floor until the others in the room were deported. There were bed bugs.

Detainees were given two meals a day. At 8am they ate a breakfast of instant porridge, tea and six slices of bread. The evening meal was served at 3pm. It was pap, rice and gravy. Once in a while there was a piece of sausage, chicken or boiled eggs. Some detainees were able to sell or trade the food, especially eggs or meat, and had more than three blankets at night.

Tapiwa had to sleep next to a mentally challenged man who never slept and talked to himself all the time. In the room there were also ex-convicts who had served their sentences and were awaiting deportation.

Detainees’ cell phones were confiscated and pay phones outside the room did not work at all. Tapiwa said, “A night before deportation, the security people called out all Zimbabweans and went through the list, telling us to fetch our blankets before they transferred us to the B section. We were given back our belongings and we gave back the IDs they had provided us with during detention time. I was shocked with the way the workers treat detainees. It appeared to me they had never received any training.”

“There were other Zimbabweans, who claimed to have paid as much as R500 to jump the deportation queue and some Zambians and Mozambicans who had bribed for quick deportation through Zimbabwe.”

Other Zimbabweans said they had paid bribes to be dropped off before Beitbridge, but their attempt to avoid deportation failed.

The plan was for the guards to let them go and report later that they had run away but either there had been a misunderstanding or the detainees had offered too little money, Tapiwa said.

”The plan did not work out because we reached Beitbridge with them.”

At times the guards moved around with a book and pen telling people to write their names down and pay money - as little as R30 - claiming it was for early deportation. Tapiwa did not pay. He said the money was probably pocket money for the guards.

On the way to Lindela, the bus full of detainees had stopped at police stations for them to relieve themselves. But on the road to Beitbridge, Tapiwa said, the bus had not stopped. Instead the guards had cut up a plastic bottle and detainees had to pass it around to urinate and empty the urine out of the window.

When a 40-year-old man complained, he said, the guards from their bus and the bus following behind with women detainees had ganged up and beaten him. They then pepper-sprayed the bus, he said.

Conditions at Lindela came under the spotlight last month when the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) released a report on an investigation into health conditions at the centre, in association with Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) and the African Center for Migration and Society.

The investigation followed a complaint from MSF, SECTION27, Lawyers for Human Rights, and People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP).

The study revealed a lack of provision for TB testing and isolation of infected persons, as well as a lack of psychological care, counselling, condoms and testing for HIV, among other health problems. The report also highlighted overcrowding in rooms and pointed out that time intervals between the evening meal and breakfast did not comply with the regulations of the Immigration Act.

The Departments of Health and Home Affairs have been asked to remedy these problems. The SAHRC also urged the Departments of Home Affairs and International Relations and Cooperation to take urgent steps to create an independent monitoring mechanism as prescribed in the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

The Commission also recommended that Home Affairs consult with civil society organisations, and allow these organisations access to Lindela.

In the past, unaccompanied children have been detained at Lindela, which does not have suitable facilities for children. Detainees have complained to GroundUp about conditions in the holding cells of police stations or in Lindela and ill treatment from SAPS Officers. In 2012 a Zimbabwean man almost died in Leratong Hospital after falling ill in Lindela.

One of the problems highlighted by the SAHRC report is that people were sometimes “extra judicially detained in excess of 120 days.”

James Chapman of the UCT Refugee Rights Clinic, says in Cape Town foreigners unlawfully in South Africa were held in Pollsmoor for varying periods, usually about two weeks, before being transported to Lindela.

Chapman said protection should be available to foreign nationals in prison since they are held for immigration processing and not criminal offences.

All foreigners charged with any offence should appear before a magistrate within 48 hours.

If they are not charged with an offence and are arrested and detained for the purpose of deportation, then they still have the right to request that their arrest and detention are confirmed by warrant of court within 48 hours of the request.

Unfortunately detainees are often not aware of their rights and sometimes choose to be deported without going to court because immigration officers tell them if they went to court they would be detained longer, Chapman said. The detainee can apply at any time to have his or her detention reviewed by a magistrate and if the court does not issue a warrant confirming the detention within 48 hours, the detainee has to be released immediately.

He said the Immigration Act stipulates a maximum detention period of 30 days. This can be extended by a further 90 days by a court.

A detainee has to be held “in compliance with minimum prescribed standards protecting his or her dignity and relevant human rights” and notified in writing of a decision to deport him or her and of his or her right to appeal, explains Chapman.

Detention beyond 120 days is against the law, Chapman said, and attempts to release a detainee and immediately re-arrest him or her to restart the time limits under the Immigration Act has been found to be unlawful and unconstitutional.