Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, under pressure from Parliament to account for reported human rights abuses at Lindela Repatriation Centre, has invited the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to establish an office at the centre.
Last week the home affairs portfolio committee convened a meeting at which parliamentarians called for “a special meeting” with the department and the SAHRC to “deal with issues regarding Lindela Repatriation Centre”.
During a visit to the centre in Krugersdorp yesterday (October 20) – to which many media houses were invited except the Mail & Guardian, which published a story on October 10 detailing claims of abuse at Lindela – Gigaba reportedly announced that he had offered office space in Lindela to the commission, but the commission had not yet responded.
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Gigaba said he would not like to see an “antagonistic” relationship with the commission. He was visiting Lindela to gather first-hand information about reported abuses at the centre before a “special meeting” with the committee.
The centre, with a capacity to hold 4?000 detainees, currently has more than 1?800 detainees, according to Gigaba.
Cries of abuse
Employees at the centre said workers had spent last week spring-cleaning the detainees’ rooms, painting walls and scrubbing floors ahead of Gigaba’s visit. Some were still painting the visitors’ room when the M&G arrived after the media briefing.
The Gauteng manager for the commission, advocate Chantal Kisoon, said Parliament had asked for a meeting with the SAHRC on October 28 to discuss the allegations of human rights abuses, but the commission was not available on that day.
“We hope Parliament would reschedule the meeting,” she said.
The commission has already visited the centre.
Three weeks ago the M&G reported that 25 Nigerians were shot at with rubber bullets and beaten by 10 security guards because they had allegedly been on a two-week hunger strike. Detainees claim the guards wanted them to end their hunger strike.
The guards work for Bosasa Operations, the private company running the facility on behalf of the home affairs department.
Five hunger strikers said they had started the strike to draw attention to poor conditions at the facility. They alleged that most of the detainees, particularly those from Nigeria, had been held for more than 120 days, a violation of the Immigration Act. Their other complaints included limited access to legal representation, overcrowding, inferior food and bad treatment by the centre’s staff.
Their version of events could not be corroborated by other witnesses but a number of reports, court cases, investigations and independent verification by credible human rights bodies and lawyers over more than a decade have painted a picture of abuse, torture and disregard for the detainees’ rights.
Three weeks ago, the Malawians decided to go on a hunger strike but called it off after 300 of them were deported.
The commission has launched an investigation into allegations of human rights violations at Lindela.
Kisoon declined to comment because the “matter is under investigation”, but said the commission would, at a later stage, forward allegations to the home affairs department to source responses.
Last month the portfolio committee pledged to “engage the department on the way forward to ensure that in the delivery of its mandate, the prescripts of the Immigration Act are followed to the letter”.
This was in reaction to the SAHRC report of its two-year investigation into “the state of health and healthcare 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 “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 healthcare, among other things”.
The portfolio committee, led by Lemias Mashile, advised that the home affairs department work with the health department to implement the SAHRC’s recommendations.
The other perspective
On August 28 the South Gauteng High Court found that the detention of 40 foreigners in 2012 had been unlawful and unconstitutional. Detainees were being detained for more than 120 days in violation of the Immigration Act. The committee, at the time, said: “It is concerning … that a state institution entrusted with implementing the laws of this country is found by the courts to be breaking the very laws they must promote and implement.”
The M&G understands that at least 14 Nigerians who were allegedly injured during the hunger strike shooting incident have since been deported.
Bosasa spokesperson Papa Leshabane said security guards had been responding to a scuffle between the Nigerians and a Tanzanian, who they had accused of stealing.
“Our security intervened and the Nigerian nationals started assaulting the security officials leaving them no option but to secure themselves, the Tanzanian and the property.
“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 52-year-old Malawian was detained at Lindela on August 8 despite being terribly ill when the police dropped him at the centre. Detainees have accused Bosasa and the home affairs department of keeping secret the news of his death.
Leshabane denied the report on the Malawian’s death was kept 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 Lindela clinic and then taken to Leratong hospital in Kagiso, where he died.
The M&G has not been able to establish the cause of the detainee’s death.
Home affairs spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete has, for three weeks, not answered questions about the Malawian’s death and of allegations about human rights abuses at Lindela.
Workers at the centre told the M&G that security guards had last week been ordered by senior managers to desist from shooting and beating detainees.