The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has launched an investigation into the alleged violation of the human rights of the illegal immigrants detained at the Lindela Repatriation Centre.
The Gauteng manager of the SAHRC, advocate Chantal Kisoon, said the commission visited the centre on Friday October 10 and detainees had complained about human rights violations and the “matter is now under investigation”.
An attorney from the Legal Resources Centre, Naseema Fakir, said the organisation would visit Lindela on Friday to try to establish the facts following the allegations of human rights abuses.
The Mail & Guardian reported last week that 25 Nigerian detainees were allegedly shot at and beaten by security guards working for Bosasa Operation, the private company that runs the facility on behalf of the home affairs department.
The M&G has since learned about the death of an illegal Malawian immigrant who was detained at Lindela on August 8, despite being ill when the police delivered him there.
Detainees have accused Bosasa and home affairs officials of keeping his death a secret.
The cause of the detainee’s death could not be established.
Some interns said many people at the centre contracted flu and had tuberculosis.
Kisoon said the commission would forward the allegations to the home affairs department.
She said that Parliament had asked for a meeting with the commission on October 28 to discuss the allegations but the commission was not available on that day.
“We are expecting Parliament to reschedule the meeting,” she said.
Last week the M&G reported that 10 security guards allegedly beat the Nigerians with batons and shot at them using rubber bullets to force them to end their two-week hunger strike.
Five of the hunger strikers said they started the strike to draw attention to the poor living conditions in the facility.
They claimed that most of the detainees at Lindela, especially those from Nigeria, had been kept illegally for more than 120 days.
Their other complaints included difficulty in getting legal representation, overcrowding, bad food and poor treatment by the centre’s staff.
Their version of events could not be corroborated by independent witnesses.
However, several reports, court cases and investigations, and independent verification by a range of human rights bodies and lawyers over more than a decade paint a picture of abuse, torture and a trampling on the rights of the detainees.
The centre, in Krugersdorp on the West Rand, can accommodate 4?000 detainees.
The M&G understands that at least 14 Nigerians who were badly injured during the alleged shooting incident have since been deported.
Bosasa spokesperson Papa Leshabane finally commented this week about the shooting incident.
He said security guards were responding to a scuffle between Nigerians and a Tanzanian accused of “stealing from one of them”.
He denied any knowledge of a hunger strike.
“We are not aware of any hunger strike at Lindela in the past weeks. Inmates have been attending to the kitchen as always during meal times,” he said.
A source with first-hand information about the deal between Bosasa and the home affairs department said that “in terms of the contractual agreement between the two parties, the security guards should have called the police officers to intervene in the event of the fight or protest waged by the detainees”.
But Leshabane said: “Our security intervened and the Nigerians started assaulting the security officials,
leaving them no option but to secure themselves, the Tanzanian and the property.”
Referring to the death of the Malawian man, Leshabane said a report on the deceased “was never kept a secret as it was made available to the department of home affairs”.
The M&G was told that the detainee had been treated at the clinic in the centre and then taken to the Leratong hospital in Kagiso township, where he died.
Home affairs department spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete failed to respond to questions about the death of the detainee and about human rights abuses at Lindela.
A former Lindela detainee, Jean Kufil Lukila (44), from the Democratic Republic of Congo, told the M&G last week that there were “too many people in one room and people fell sick”, and that “when they go to the clinic, they give them only Panado tablets”.
He was arrested in 2011 because his asylum-seeker permit had expired. He was detained for 162 days.
He recalled an incident when “a Congolese died because, after he vomited blood, he was not given the proper medication”.
Last month, the human rights commission released a report on its two-year investigation into “the state of health and health care services at Lindela”.
The report found that there was a “lack of measures to ensure continuity of treatment with respect to chronic medication, particularly with regard to TB and HIV treatment, among other findings”.
The report recommended that the home affairs department “should provide the commission with a comprehensive report outlining the challenges it has identified and steps it will take to remedy such barriers to the realisation of the right to health care”, among other things.
During the M&G‘s visit to the centre, the wife of the dead Malawian detainee was among the visitors. She was there to talk to Bosasa officials about her husband’s death.
She allegedly told one visitor that her husband had died after he had spent “a short time” at Lindela.
The M&G was unable to talk to her.
On Tuesday, a group of 1 000 Malawians reportedly attacked a security guard inspecting their cells “because of the mounting frustration that their deportation has been unnecessarily delayed”.
The guard was apparently rescued by his colleagues and was unharmed.
Two weeks ago, the Malawians decided to go on a hunger strike but called it off after 300 of them were deported.
A Bosasa source said the home affairs department had not contacted the company directors.
“They had not even asked [Bosasa] to hand over the CCTV footages of the shooting incident,” the source said.
The former head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Vusi Pikoli, this week tweeted: “Are we as South Africans turning a blind eye to allegations of human rights violations? Lindela and other police stations? It can’t be!”
Rapula Moatshe is the fellow for Eugene Saldanha social justice reporting.