Johannesburg cops target Zim refugees

As Zimbabwe’s opposition mulls its options over whether to contest a run-off election against President Robert Mugabe, refugees in South Africa continue to suffer at the hands of the South African police.

On April 25, policemen raided a block of flats in Pageview, west of the city-centre, which is home to 15 Zimbabwean refugees. Two refugees—who were asleep in bed—were arrested and charged with drinking in public.

The husband of Melody (22)—one of those arrested—told the Mail & Guardian Online that the police had broken into the building without identifying themselves.

“They broke down the grates [corrugated iron sheets] at the bottom of the building and came in.
They also broke the lock on the gate. I was sleeping with my wife when they just came in. They have no respect and they didn’t warn us,” said the refugee (34), who preferred to remain anonymous.

The building, which does not have proper doors or electricity, is rented by the refugees. There is a bathroom with cold water and toilet. Electricity is purchased from the neighbours.

“I think they just wanted money, and then we would be left alone. They only took my wife and one of the other men. They asked for our papers. Most of us have asylum papers but the others will be fetching there’s soon.”

“My wife was taken to the Brixton police station and when I went to see her the next day they didn’t let me.”

“When I asked to speak to someone in charge no one wanted to help. I was ignored.”

Melody and her husband came to South Africa last year October and have been staying in the building since then. Melody is a domestic worker at a nearby house while her husband is a shop assistant in Melrose Arch.

Melody recalls being asked repeatedly by the policemen “Where’s your papers? Where’s your papers?”

“They asked me and my husband, but he had his. They only took me, I don’t know why. After they took me they went by the bottle stores and raided there. They took people from there and when we went to the station they said I was drinking.”

Melody’s husband could not understand why they had charged her for drinking in public as “Melody does not drink and she was sleeping with me in the bed at that time of the night”.

The man paid a R300 admission of guilt fine to secure his wife’s release on Saturday evening.

One of the other tenants described the incident: “They came with the big trucks and a lot of police cars. We thought they were going to take us all away but they only took my friend Melody and one other man. [I’m] not sure why they took them and not everyone but we told them we were fetching our asylum papers on the May 7.”

Superintendent Dollar Sithebe from the Brixton police Station told the Mail & Guardian Online that the raid was part of the ongoing effort to ensure normal police visibility.

“It was part of the crime prevention operation which also involved the reservists. We conducted it in Crosby, Mayfair, Mayfair West, Brixton, Vrededorp, Pageview, Auckland Park and Melville areas. It was conducted through out the weekend and during the day on Monday.”

Sithebe said that in total 137 suspects were arrested on various charges, including possession of an unlicensed firearm, carrying a firearm without a holster, house-breaking, armed robbery, assault, drinking in public, dealing in drugs and possession of drugs.

“A lot of neighbours were complaining about the refugees living in the building in Pageview. In total we arrested six illegal immigrants. We have not been targeting Zimbabwean refugees only. We are targeting criminals and not Zimbabwean refugees. We are promoting police visibility.”

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