Deportees recount ordeals




’Manteotse Maama

At least 400 Basotho men and women were transported in eight buses from Lindela Repatriation Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Monday and dumped at Maseru border post.

The deportees claimed they were tortured while at the centre, and would be beaten by guards for no apparent reason.

One of the deportees, who could only give her name as Lerata from Leribe Ha Seetsa, told the Lesotho Times that she was arrested in Pretoria two months ago after “overstaying” in South Africa by 30 days.

“I had overstayed by 30 days, and was arrested while I was walking in Pretoria. But the police told me that they were taking me into detention as protection from xenophobic attacks which were rocking South Africa at the time. They were rounding us up in the streets and taking us to police stations and then Lindela.

“We were not taken to court yet we had been arrested for breaking the law; we were just dumped at Lindela where life was extremely tough. The Lindela guards would torture and assault us for no reason at all, and Basotho were treated worse than any other nationals who had also been arrested for being in South Africa illegally. So when it was time to be deported, I thanked my God that the ordeal was finally over,” he said.

Another deportee, who only requested to be called Mahamo, said he was arrested on 27 March in Rustenburg, where he was running a “small business.”

“I had this small business and my passport was fine. But Home Affairs officials took the passport and refused to give it back. I was taken to a police station where I was kept for three weeks and on 16 April, I was moved to Lindela.

“The security guards at the centre were beating us most of the time—when we were going to bed, at mealtime or any time they just felt like it. On 29 April, when a group of about 120 Basotho was sent home, we demanded to meet a government official so we could state our  complaints. Officials at the Lindela had promised to deport 300 people and we had all wanted to be part of this group, but we were unlucky not to make it

“After that group had been taken away, we decided to protest, but  warned to go to our rooms or face the consequences. That day, we were not given any food and the blankets we were wearing were taken from us as punishment. The guards then fired rubber bullets at us, and we ran for dear life. 

“The beating continued unabated and if your food was spilled, that was your problem; they didn’t care if you starved or lived. And when they were deporting one group last month, we demanded to meet with the person in charge for his assistance because we could not take it anymore, hence we are here at the border today—deported and dumped as if we are not human beings.”  

Ntolo Mojakhamo said he was working at a restaurant in Bloemfontein when he was arrested for overstaying his visa by two months.

“I was caught while I was in town as the police looked for people without passports, or who had overstayed their visas. The police were even going from house to house looking for people with foreign passports.

“They took me to court and I was sentenced to two months in prison but I stayed there longer by three weeks.  I had overstayed by two months in South Africa, and after being in  prison for two months and three weeks, I was taken to Lindela where I stayed the whole month,” she said.

Another deportee, Tsoakae (she refused to give her other name), said she was arrested in Bloemfontein after overstaying in South Africa by two months and three weeks.

“I was sentenced to one month in prison but I stayed there for two months. When we asked the guards when we were going to be released, they told us they were just keeping us there and only Home Affairs officials could answer those questions.

“Home Affairs staff then took us to court again where it was verified that indeed, we had served our sentences. Then we were taken to Lindela where we stayed for one month until our deportation today.

“The situation is simply terrible in South African prisons and at Lindela; for instance, I left nine Basotho at Kimberly Prison and some were pregnant, but the guards wouldn’t care less. They said they could give birth in the prison for all they cared, and their crime was that they had overstayed in South Africa.”

Another deportee, ’Mafako Mochesane, said he was a vendor on the streets of Rustenburg when the sun set on him.

“The police surprised me as I walked on the streets. They spoke to me first to find out if I was South African and when they realised that I wasn’t, they asked for my passport.

“And when I told them that I had left it at home, they said I should have carried it with me so they arrested and took me to a police station. However, they gave me a chance to call someone who could bring the passport to the police station, and when they realised that I was in South Africa legally, they kept me locked up claiming that they wanted to protect me from xenophobic attacks,” she said.

’Maselloane Nthejane, 42, from Mantšonyane, said he was attending a party when the police pounced.

“We were enjoying ourselves in Rustenburg, and had arrived there at  the party at around 10 pm. But around midnight, I heard a gunshot and heard orders for us to lie down

“There was one white guy and three blacks all earing balaclava hats. Later, the police came and started beating us up. We were then taken to Lindela, until our deportation today. Life might be tough here at home because there are no jobs, but South Africa has become a difficult place for foreigners and I will think twice before I go back again.”

Meanwhile, the South African government has repeatedly said it would arrest any foreigner without proper immigration papers. 

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