My apologies for the lack of blogging lately, sometimes life just gets hectic and blogging ends up taking the back seat. This is something I find frustrating, as there are things I want to blog about and I think it's important to have at least something new every day but......
Well, one story that's been huge in the news in South Africa has been the exposure of corrupt police extorting money from immigrants from other African countries. Black immigrants are targeted while white and Chinese immigrants are left alone. Basically, police at the Booysens police station, south of Johannesburg, have been rounding up groups of immigrants on a daily basis and taking them back to the station - regardless of whether they are here illegally or if they do have the right papers. Then late at night, they allow the immigrants to contact friends or family who have to pay R300 to get them released or they risk being taken to the Lindela Repatriation Centre from where they are sent back to their countries of origin. According to the expose, broadcast initially on South African television, the Booysens case is not an isolated incident. This type of thing occurs at many other police stations around the country.
Lindela has a notorious reputation, and people often end up languishing there for months at a time. Micheal Neocosmos, a professor of sociology at the University of Pretoria is currently writing a book about Xenophobia in South Africa. He told me that immigrants in Lindela are subject to inhuman treatment which can sometimes even be classified as torture. This includes waking people up in the middle of the night and subjecting them to beatings. As far back as the year 2000, the South African Human Rights Commission conducted an inquiry with the following findings:
"The arbitrary and indiscriminate detention of undocumented migrants has become a commonplace, everyday occurrence. This practice flies in the face of the many universally recognized human rights that migrants are entitled to, whether they are documented or not. When asylum seekers are affected, such detention becomes a serious violation of their special right to international protection. Even ordinary South African citizens are not spared the humiliation of having to prove to arresting officers that their presence in the country is legal. What is more alarming are the dangerously high levels of xenophobia and the callous attitudes of officials during the arrest and detention procedures".
Despite this, as recently as last month, the Minister of Home Affairs Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula claimed to be outraged that she was not told about the deaths of two illegal immigrants at Lindela. The two immigrants from Zimbabwe were Alice Chumba, aged 22, who was pregnant, and died of complications on July 5, and Mcabangeli Mlambo, aged 18, who died the following day after vomiting blood. The minister's statement came hot on the heels of further South African Human Rights Commission hearings on xenophobia that took place towards the end of August. According to the hearings, South Africa is experiencing a growing hatred towards, and ignorance of, the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers. Also, troubling reports emerged about the conduct of South African police, even towards foreigners who had obtained documents allowing them to stay in the country legally. The hearings found that police routinely confiscate and destroy refugees' documents in order to justify arresting them.
One of the myths contributing to the rise of xenophobia, is that locals fear that immigrants are "stealing" their jobs. However Michael Neocosmos says that in fact, the opposite is often true. Many immigrants come to South Africa temporarily with the purpose of making money - they don't want to stay in the country forever. They set up small businesses and end up actually providing employment to South Africans.
Even if the majority of African immigrants and asylum seekers who come to South Africa are poor and vulnerable, I think it is important to bear in mind that they don't come here out of choice. They are driven here by war and poverty and repressive regimes, and come in search of a better life. They don't want to leave their family and friends and cultural references, or their homes, and I would imagine that most of them yearn to go back to their countries of origin. Refugees and immigrants have suffered enough and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. South Africans who suffered under the humiliation and indignities of apartheid should surely know better. Exiled South Africans were welcomed in other African countries during the apartheid years, the ANC's headquarters were in Zambia, and it is doubtful that without the help and support of these countries that the struggle for freedom would have been won. I think that the current situation is nothing less than a national disgrace.