Zimbabweans still threatened with deportation

Human Rights Watch on Thursday called for an immediate end to the detainment and deportation of Zimbabweans in South Africa, calling it a ‘violation of the government’s recently announced moratorium”.

The United States-based group claims that police in Musina, close to the Zimbabwean border, continued to detain Zimbabwe foreign nationals despite an announcement made earlier this month that the Department of Home Affairs will grant special dispensation permits allowing them to legally stay in the country for up to six months.

Although the policy has yet to be enacted, Home Affairs called for an immediate moratorium on the deportation of Zimbabweans.

The new policy allows Zimbabweans to legally live and work in South Africa without a passport or other identity documents. Under the moratorium, only Zimbabweans accused of crimes can be deported.
But according to Tiseke Kasambala of Human Rights Watch’s South African office, ‘the police are arresting Zimbabweans who cannot prove their nationality or have proper documentation, which directly goes against the moratorium”.

For the South African group Lawyers For Human Rights, these arrests and deportations demonstrate a lack of coordination between the Department of Home Affairs and the South African Police Service (SAPS). According to David Cote, a lawyer with the group, ‘after the moratorium came into place, the police continued to arrest and detain. In Pietermaritzburg on the day that the announcement was made Zimbabweans were arrested and detained.”

‘We were told that [the SAPS] had not been informed of the directive and so they found themselves not bound by it,” he said.

Both groups claim that police attempted to deport detained Zimbabweans in Musina despite the fact that border officials, in complying with the moratorium, refused to grant them exit visas.

Because they lacked proper documentation to leave South Africa, they were refused entry into Zimbabwe. Once they returned to Musina they were detained again.

Cote explains: ‘Police were continuing to detain people even though the Department of Home Affairs wouldn’t deport them.”

Under the new policy, ‘people can still be detained for up to 48 hours under Section 41 of the Immigration Act, but under the moratorium they cannot be deported”.

‘There were 600 people at Musina who were being held for over 48 hours even though they could not be deported. This is unlawful as they were being held indefinitely,” said Cote.

Lawyers for Human Rights filed an urgent complaint to North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria concerning such actions, and were informed earlier this week that police were ordered to end all detainments and deportations.

Despite the announcement, Human Rights Watch remains weary. According to Gerry Simpson, a refugee researcher with Human Rights Watch, ‘the police are acting as if they are a law unto themselves. If they are ignoring a clear government order to stop detaining and deporting Zimbabweans and give them temporary status, then South Africa has a major problem with the rule of law.”

The South African Police Service could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mara Kardas-Nelson

Mara Kardas-Nelson

Mara Kardas-Nelson is a journalist with the Mail & Guardian's Centre for Health Journalism, where she focuses on access to medicine, health policy, financing, and planning. She has been contributing to the Mail & Guardian since 2009, writing on a wide variety of topics ranging from the environment to development to local culture. In 2010 she shared a Mondi Shanduka Newspaper award with photographer Sam Reinders for their work on acid mine drainage in Gauteng and Mpumalanga. Her work has appeared in publications across Africa, North America, and Europe.  Read more from Mara Kardas-Nelson

    Client Media Releases

    NWU hosts successful press club networking forum
    Five ways to use Mobi-gram
    MTN gears up for Black Friday sale promotion