Mail & Guardian proprietor Trevor Ncube found himself on the receiving end of immigration harassment this weekend while entering South Africa after a business trip.
His tweets on being detained while officials verified his nine-year-old identity document have sparked heated debate on Twitter with others claiming to have experienced similar treatment.
“It’s time South African immigration stopped assuming every black African coming into the country is a desperate criminal,” read one of Ncube’s tweets.
Ncube said a lack of communication and unfair treatment had become the norm over the past few months. He added there seemed to be racial profiling by immigration officials and a general uncertainty of immigration laws and procedures.
“Sad part of my experience with OR immigration is the three ladies that dealt with me did not appear clear as to what was wrong with my ID (sic).
The M&G sat down with Ncube to get his views:
Can you describe the experience, having been treated so unprofessionally?
I was very angry. I was left without a word for over an hour and each time I asked what was going on I was told to just wait.
I heard them on the phone later trying to ascertain about my ID card then suddenly there’s this deathly silence and she says, looking sheepish, “We owe you an apology.”
I was seriously inconvenienced and this could’ve been sorted out better. They could’ve sat me down and asked me questions to establish whatever it is they felt was amiss with my ID.
Where’s the courtesy, where’s the respect that we all deserve? Nobody says they must compromise in carrying out their duties but there must be respect and not ill-treating innocent members of the public.
Why do you think you were treated like this?
I’m not the only one that’s been subjected to [this]. There are other black Africans that have been humiliated and inconvenienced for no apparent reason. They treat you in a very unprofessional manner. We had a period during the Fifa World Cup when immigration officials were welcoming, friendly and professional . This has changed in the recent past and unfortunately this type of behaviour doesn’t bode well for South Africa. I don’t know whether it’s part of their training but they have become very hostile. That has been my experience and that of many who got in touch with me after I went public about my treatment.
There’s some profiling of some sort. But I get a sense there is hostility towards black Africans.
Is there a wider problem with foreigners living legally in SA when they travel out and into the country?
I’m seeing people on Twitter saying ‘I was treated similarly’ or ‘I’m not the only one being subjected to this’. Some people are accusing me of wanting special treatment. That’s not what I’m saying. We should all be treated fairly.
There are wider problems here. The sense I got from these [officials] is that they didn’t quite understand what their job entailed. They didn’t seem familiar with what they should be looking for.
They ended up wanting to find anything wrong with my ID, passport and it seems like a skills or training issue.
For me the key issue is that I’ve used this similar official document for nine years and this incident confirms that there’s a clamping down, that there’s suddenly something wrong that escapes me.
While I accepted their apologies I thought it important to speak out because I am aware that this harassment of black African visitors to South Africa this is a widespread phenomenon.
I thought it’s important to talk out in the hope of giving a voice to many that have suffered similar circumstances but are afraid to step out.