News/South Africa: SA ups fight against illegal immigrants

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Subject: News/South Africa: SA ups fight against illegal immigrants
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Fri Nov 19 1999 - 07:43:00 EST


                SA ups fight against illegal immigrants

OTC 11/12/99 3:06 AM

 Johannesburg (Financial Gazette, November 11, 1999) - Willem Vorster, the
Afrikaner in charge of controlling illegal immigrants into South Africa,
tells a story of a Malawian professional footballer, a South African owner
of a soccer club and the owner's dead son.
   Here goes the story: A South African owner of a professional soccer
club, whose name Vorster could not divulge because of a pending court
case, wanted a top player for his club.
   More lucrative He scoured southern Africa until he met a Malawian
professional who was keen to ply his trade in the more lucrative South
African league.
   The soccer boss obtained a work permit for the player who soon became
an integral part of the club owner's family. Then the son of the club
owner died.
   The owner of the club decided that rather than endure the harrowing
ordeal of trying to renew the player's work permit, he would give the
Malawian his dead son's identity card, birth certificate and other
relevant documents to change his nationality.
   Soon the Malawian became a South African carrying the dead son's name.
Being quite enterprising, the Malawian player realised that he could
revert to his old name and still remain a South African.
   He went to court and applied for a change of name - quite legal in
South Africa as well as in countries such as Zimbabwe. He reverted to his
old name and continued to delight the owner of the soccer club and soccer
lovers with his sublime ball skills, but then somebody "squealed" and
Vorster's Home Affairs Ministry pounced on him.
   The Malawian soccer player has now been deported to Lilongwe and Home
Affairs is currently investigating whether it can prosecute the South
African soccer boss.
   Vorster won't say whether the squealer was another jealous player. "We
have so many people who phone us anonymously," he says.
   Pathetic stories Such a tip recently netted five middle-managers and
the entire catering department of Eskom, South Africa's giant electricity
utility. Those caught were all found to be Zimbabweans carrying South
African identities.
   Human rights organisations here are complaining that the South African
government is encouraging xenophobia by encouraging its citizens to point
out foreigners who are in the country illegally.
   One even likened the practice to Nazi Germany when "real" Germans were
encouraged to point out Jews. Vorster is not perturbed by these
accusations and says informers to his department made it easier for the
department to root out those masquerading as South Africans and taking the
jobs of locals.
   "When I do training of immigration officers, I always tell them that
you are the one standing between this immigrant and a life in South
Africa. You can hear pathetic stories that can make you cry, but you must
always realise that behind all this is a long line of hungry South
Africans who are looking for the same job," he says.
   The South African government is also about to enact a new Refugee Act,
which is already under attack from sections of the media and human rights
bodies.
   Asylum Many believe that those seeking refuge or political asylum in
South Africa may now be sent back to the country of their first entry. For
instance, a family escaping fighting in Ethiopia may cross into Kenya
first. If it tries to leave Nairobi for Johannesburg, there may be a
problem.
   Vorster said the Act, which he says falls in line with policies of the
United Nations High Commission for Refugees, is meant to control people
who moved from the countries they first sought refuge to South Africa.
   To counter negative reports on the treatment of refugees and illegal
immigrants in South Africa, the Department of Home Affairs last week
invited a few local journalists to tour the notorious Lindela Detention
Centre, home to thousands of Zimbabweans before they are deported from
Johannesburg.
   I was one of those on the tour.
   Snaking road To get to Lindela, one passes through a small town called
Krugersdorp, one of the numerous small towns named after one of the
founders of the Afrikaner state, Paul Kruger.
   Krugersdorp is surrounded by ugly but false hills created by mounds of
sand and residue vomitted from the deep bowls of the earth when early
settlers sought gold and other precious metals.
   About 10 kms away from the town is the snaking road that leads to
Lindela Detention Centre. It has been run by Dyambu Trust, a private body,
on a three-year contract after Meritum Hostels, a private company, won the
tender to accommodate illegal immigrants before their deportation.
   Lindela is part of a mine hostel that closed down and consists of
separate accommodation for males and females. The male section is larger
and can sometimes accommodate as many as 30 beds stacked on top of each
other in one room.
   Inmates tend to group according to their nationalities. There are rooms
for Zimbabweans, Nigerians, Mozambicans, Ethiopians and so on. The
majority of residents though are Mozambicans and Zimbabweans.
   Criminals At times there have been tensions between the different
nationalities.
   Said Vorster: "Lindela really represents a small community and you will
have criminals in that community but it will be in the same percentage as
you will have in a normal community. So if you say there are 1 000 people,
real criminals are a small percentage of the thousand."
   One of the most violent incidents at Lindela recently involved some
Tanzanian "thieves" who targeted Nigerians. War broke out. The Tanzanians
had to be separated from the rest and accommodated in a notorious area -
"Room 33" - which inmates say is filthy and lacks basic necessities such
as blankets and toilet paper.
   Zimbabweans and Moza-mbicans do not stay long at Lindela. Every Tuesday
a train leaves Johannesburg with hundreds of Zimbabweans who are dropped
at the border to be taken over by local authorities. A similar train takes
Mozambicans every Wednesday to the border.
   Language According to officials at Lindela, the longest a Zimbabwean
can stay at the centre is a week or two while they investigate whether he
or she is really not South African.
   Vorster says it is very easy for his staff to pick out Zimbabweans.
Language is one of the signs, he said. But the department has been
criticised for targeting darker-skinned Africans as illegal immigrants.
   One South African journalist of a darker hue had to be rescued from
Lindela just before he was to be shipped to Zimbabwe. In Johannesburg, it
is more common for police to stop dark-skinned Africans compared to
lighter ones.
   John Mlambo, a Zimbabwean we met at Lindela, said he had slipped into
South Africa to avoid famine in his home area of Chipinge.
   He had lived in South Africa since 1996 playing clock and dagger with
the police while selling vegetables in Johannesburg's streets of Hillbrow
and Yeoville before he was caught without an identity.
   He has already been told that he will be deported next Tuesday.
   A Malawian, Timothy Phiri, said he was nabbed in Joha-nnesburg's
affluent suburb of Rosebank while selling some wares.
   'Revolving door' Phiri says he is a veteran of Lindela. He has been
there before. Although he was going to be deported the following
Wed-nesday, he said he would be back in South Africa within a week.
   It is much easier for Mala-wians to return to South Africa after being
deported - Home Affairs jargon calls it the "revolving door" problem -
because Malawians do not need visas to enter South Africa.
   While acknowledging the problems posed by the "revolving door", Vorster
says what has become a real issue is the involvement of ruthless East
Asian gangs who make millions of dollars from smuggling human cargo.
   The gangs or Triads, as the local media calls them, are known to kill
squealers and bring in a lot of children and women for prostitution.
   Inadequate food Another problem, says Vor-ster, are the Nigerian drug
lords. He says some come to Lindela with wads of money which easily tempt
officials. There have been several "escapes" of Nigerians from the centre.

   For Zimbabweans and Moza-mbicans who are the usual residents of
Lindela, the centre is no longer that bad. Veterans say officials no
longer assault them. Their main complaint is that the food is inadequate
and at times not well-cooked.
   They are allowed to phone home and can buy small luxuries such as
bread, cold drinks and cigarettes from the kiosk. They roam freely around
the complex in daytime and are only locked up at night.
   Every week, South Africa deports about 700 Zimbabweans. Between January
and September 31 834 Zimbabweans were deported. During the same period, 74
771 Mozambicans took the non-stop train to Resin Garcia.
   By David Masunda Own Correspondent
   Copyright 1999 Financial Gazette. Distributed via Africa News Online.
   -0-
    Copyright 1999


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