How Lindela became Bosasa’s meal ticket

 

 

When former Bosasa chief operations officer Angelo Agrizzi took to the witness stand at the commission of inquiry into state capture on January 16, dressed in a dark suit with a crisp white shirt and black and blue tie, no one was prepared for the rot he would expose.

During nine days of testimony that would implicate his former boss, Gavin Watson, Agrizzi laid bare how facilities management company African Global Operations (formerly known as Bosasa) paid monthly bribes totalling between R4 million and R6 million to politicians, government officials and journalists.

Watson was drunk on power and influence, and the bribes, Agrizzi claimed, ensured that the lucrative contracts kept coming in. Estimates suggest that Bosasa scored more than R12 billion in government contracts through bribes and corruption.

After nearly two decades of profiteering from those corrupt deals, the walls came crashing down following Agrizzi’s explosive testimony. Bosasa went into liquidation shortly thereafter, Watson died in a car accident with many questions still unanswered, and Agrizzi and other whistleblowers committed to exposing the rot that had become synonymous with Bosasa.

Despite these revelations, one of the last contracts Bosasa ceded was the running and management of the controversial Lindela Repatriation Centre in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg. Despite a new service provider taking over the running of Lindela, Bosasa was making R1.3 million by renting the property to the Department of Home Affairs until it was sold.

However, Home Affairs spokesperson David Hlabane confirmed to New Frame that: “The centre still operates as a deportation facility. The Department of Home Affairs still has an arrangement that allows for the facility to continue as such until November 2020, regardless of who owns the land.

On 4 December, a controversial three-day auction started selling off Bosasa property, including Watson’s BMW X5. The property on which Lindela stands was also auctioned off.

Spokesperson David Hlabane confirmed that the home affairs department was currently spending R9.5 million a month on Lindela, despite it running at about a third of its capacity. Hlabane said Lindela had housed an average of 1 500 occupants a month for the past year, despite having the capacity for 4 000 people.

This comes to about R114 million a year. The contract, which Enviromongz Projects took over at the beginning of November, expires in November 2020.

The name Lindela has become synonymous with abuse and corruption. Since Bosasa was awarded the contract to operate the centre in 1996, stories of riots, assaults and deaths have been common.

Cash cow

Researchers and analysts have pointed out how the corruption facilitated such abuse and allowed it to go unchecked. Former Bosasa employees familiar with the corrupt goings-on around Lindela have described how Watson viewed the centre as “a cash cow”.

During his testimony at the state capture inquiry, Frans Vorster, a former Bosasa fleet manager who previously headed operations at Lindela, detailed how Watson instructed him to “get the numbers up”. Vorster and a team acquired two trucks and six other vehicles to assist the police in transporting “illegal immigrants” to the facility.

“Gavin came to me and instructed me to get the figures up. He needed more money, he wanted more money. We got paid per person per day staying over in the facility, so he wanted us to get the numbers up,” Vorster told the commission in January.

“At that stage, we purchased buses and trucks and they were purposely built for us. They would look exactly like the vehicles from the South African Police Service (SAPS) that they used to transport prisoners,” he said.

“We then went to the various police stations and assisted them in transporting the people to the Lindela facility,” Vorster added.

“The police had no problem with that as they had a shortage of manpower. They had a shortage of vehicles and it was always a problem, because they had one vehicle that needed to pick up prisoners from the prisons and take them to court. So it was also always an issue to get the illegals to the facility.”

Watson’s desire to fill up the Lindela facility, to make as much money as possible from the home affairs department, saw the numbers increase from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

One source estimates that the average number of detainees at Lindela reached about 6 800 people a month in 2003, way above capacity. Another source estimated that as many as 7 000 people were detained at Lindela at the height of Watson’s drive to fill it up and cash in.

“We had to buy extra mattresses and put them on the floor between beds to accommodate people,” said the source.

Medical neglect

With such overcrowding, tensions flared and disease spread quickly at the facility. There have been numerous reports of Bosasa security guards severely assaulting and killing detainees over the years.

In June 2018, non-profit Doctors Without Borders (MSF) submitted a complaint to the independent Office of Health Standards Compliance over the conditions at Lindela. The complaint was endorsed by independent organisation Lawyers for Human Rights and public interest law centre Section27.

The complaint detailed how for nearly a decade, the MSF had raised concerns about health conditions at the facility. “Today, the Lindela health services do not prioritise access to HIV and tuberculosis care. Communicable diseases are treated outside of national protocol, and main health needs of those detained are largely neglected.”

The complaint outlined the “incoherence” between medical guidelines set out by the government and the medical capacity of Lindela. It said “regular health promotion” was not conducted and that most detainees didn’t have access to hygiene supplies”.

This resulted in two severe outbreaks of diarrhoeal disease in 2016 — one incident in January with more than 30 cases and another in June with more than 40 cases. “General hygiene of the eating area was poor,” it said in the complaint. “Overall, the investigation and management of outbreaks is inadequate and is not in line with existing guidelines in this area.”

The complaint also addressed issues of overcrowding at Lindela. “A Medical Research Council visit report shared to MSF by the SAHRC [South African Human Rights Commission] demonstrates inadequacies in space – men’s sleeping quarters was extremely overcrowded. In one room with a floor area of around 10x8m², a total of 26 men were sleeping on double bunk beds, with an additional 11 men sleeping on mattresses on the floor.”

According to the complaint, 13 detainees died at Lindela, “a very high death rate for a population of mostly young men”. One of the most damning allegations in the complaint was that “clinic staff systematically and repeatedly diagnosed minor illnesses among individuals in the time period immediately prior to their death and only offered basic treatment with antalgics and amoxicillin [painkillers and antibiotics], even when faced with deteriorating patients”.

The MSF complaint concludes: “The conditions in the facility create an environment of impunity, further perpetuating conditions where violations take place and hindering adequate healthcare for those that have been detained.”

‘Violence against the poor’

Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon, a lecturer in anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand and an associate researcher of the Migration and Health Project Southern Africa, has researched the effects on migrants of there being a financial incentive in the deportation industry.

“Corruption is at its root a form of violence against the poor because it firstly takes away resources that could be going into basic services, that could be going into healthcare,” he said.

“But in the case of Lindela it was also a direct form of violence against the poor where inadequately trained, poorly paid guards were frequently pitched against undocumented migrants, where beatings of inmates and riots were frequent, and that fostered a particular form of violence that made a lot of money for elites.”

Two different sources acknowledged that Lindela was Watson’s meal ticket. One said, “Lindela was always a problem for Gavin [Watson] because you had to fill it up to get paid. So if, for example, you had 7 000 people in Lindela, you get paid a cheque of R5 million, and that’s good. But if it was empty, you had a problem.”

Vorster told the inquiry, “Bosasa was doing really well from home affairs” and that in around 2006 the department had spent its entire yearly budget for Lindela within six months.

Two years later, in 2008, Bosasa would renegotiate its deal with the department as a result of a close Watson family friend who was working as a consultant to then minister of home affairs Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

Department deals

In earlier testimony, Agrizzi had implicated former Armscor chief executive Kevin Wakeford for his role in assisting the Watson family and Bosasa. Agrizzi alleged that Wakeford received about R100 000 a month to help Bosasa deal with tax issues.

Between 2007 and 2009, Wakeford Investment Enterprises made deals with the home affairs department and Wakeford was deployed as a “special project manager” to the minister.

Two sources claim Wakeford helped negotiate more favourable terms for Bosasa in managing the Lindela facility.

Wakeford declined to comment, referring to a ruling made by state capture commission chairperson Judge Raymond Zondo in February 2019.

Up until this point, the amount Bosasa was billing the department saw the profit percentage rise to 55% in 2007 from 8% in 2001. According to one source, in 2007 Bosasa charged the department just short of R100 million for the year to manage Lindela. So Bosasa charged the department R8 263 673 a month for an average of 6 000 people.

Under the new terms negotiated for Bosasa with Wakeford’s influence, Bosasa agreed to lower its bill to R90 720 000 a year, or R7 560 000 a month.

These new terms included an agreement that the department would be paying Lindela a set amount every month, based on an average of 2 500 detainees per month at Lindela – whether that number was slightly below the average number or far below the average, Bosasa would be paid.

Increased profits

In 2009, Bosasa was still charging the department R7.56 million a month even though the average number of detainees had dropped to 3 653 from just over 6 000 detainees in 2007 and 2008, before the new terms were negotiated. The following year it dropped further to an average of 2 169 detainees. And since then, the average number of detainees in the facility each month only exceeded 3 000 in 2012.

The effects of this are that Bosasa’s profits increased while their costs reduced drastically. One sourced explained: “In other words, where the department was paying us R9 million a month, they are now going to be paying us R7 million. But instead of us having 3 200 people, we are only going to have 1 000 people there. So you are reducing the price by 10%, but you are reducing your costs by effectively 300%.”

Former Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron confirmed the monthly cost and yearly value of the Lindela contract in a report he wrote following a site visit in 2012. “The Bosasa contract is until 2015. There is the option to extend the contract this year, else it will go out to tender (valued at R90 million per year or R7.5 million a month, inclusive of maintenance, management, etc.),” he wrote.

In 2013, Bosasa and the home affairs department again renegotiated, again creating more favourable terms for the company. The monthly billing was increased to R8 346 167.30 a month, with Bosasa charging the department just over R100 million a year to run the facility.

At this point the average number of detainees dropped further, seeing Bosasa’s profits increase even more, the source said.

Deportation

Until 2009, when South Africa introduced a new Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project (DZP) permit, relaxing immigration conditions for Zimbabweans, deportations were on the rise. This played into the hands of Bosasa, which was, until 2008, paid per detainee per day at Lindela.

Deportation figures compiled by the department show a steady increase in the number of annual deportations to 209 988 in 2005 from 180 713 in 1996. Deportations reached a peak of 312 733 in 2007, just before the terms of the Bosasa deal for Lindela were renegotiated in the two years before the DZP permit was introduced.

Between 1994 and 2003, the department compiled deportation figures by nationality and, up until that point, Zimbabweans made up the majority of deportations from South Africa.

A fact sheet by non-profit organisation Africa Check on Lindela and deportations from South Africa show what effect the introduction of the DZP permit had when it was introduced in April 2009.

Following the permit’s introduction, a change in policy and relaxed conditions for Zimbabweans in South Africa, the number of detainees at the facility and the number of deportations from the country declined drastically.

The latest deportation figures available from the home affairs department show that 24 266 people were deported in 2018-2019. The overwhelming majority of those deported from South Africa during this time came from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Lesotho.

In an emailed response, Hlabane said the average occupancy rate at Lindela has been 1 500 people for the past year.

Bosasa spokesperson Papa Leshabane declined to respond. He referred questions to the department and the Sechaba Trust, Bosasa’s liquidators.

Wilhelm-Solomon said the “economy around deportation” was “very destructive and very violent”.

“What’s important overall is that the situation with Bosasa reveals that deportation has been an industry in which migrants [and] undocumented migrants have been a source of income,” he said.

“So there’s a huge incentive structure to keep the system going. My sense is that the deportation system has very little effect on regulating migration, because the borders are so porous and those who wish to be in the country will return. It is very easy to return. But what the deportation structure does is it creates a huge industry where at many different levels people have been making money off deportation,” he said.

Politicking

In the past 12 to 18 months, politicians, including former health minister Aaron Motsoaledi, have blamed migrants for the government’s failure to provide healthcare, for example. And former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba and the SAPS have spoken about the resources the police use to police “illegal” or irregular migration.

Wilhelm-Solomon said: “Clearly, there are some costs. But … [they] … need to be weighed against the costs of perpetuating a deportation system that is dysfunctional, that is not achieving its stated objective, that has led to recurrent human rights abuses and which costs the state a huge amount. And that is the cost for Lindela, but also for the cost to police time.”

He said the “cost of police time is huge” as time spent policing migration could be used more appropriately to combat gender based violence and more violent crimes instead of migration.

During a parliamentary briefing in which the SAPS and the home affairs department provided input on the Immigration Amendment Bill in February 2019, SAPS deputy national commissioner Sehlahle Masemola confirmed that policing migration has placed serious constraints on the police budget.

Masemola said the police detained an average of 9 000 “illegal immigrants” a month in 2018. It emerged that the SAPS was bearing the brunt of the cost of detaining illegal immigrants, and that it was spending about R1.7 million a month to feed detainees. This excluded costs related to medical treatment and transportation.

This article was first published on New Frame

Jan Bornman
Jan Bornman
Reporter at New Frame. Interested in migration, refugees and asylum seekers' stories. MA in Migration & Displacement.
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