Local Zimbaweans rounded up, jailed

2009-04-03 00:00

POLICE swooped on expatriate Zimbanweans in Pietermaritzburg before dawn yesterday, arresting and detaining more than 200 people.

This came only hours after Thursday’s announcement by the Home Affairs Department that it would provide a six-month “special dispensation” permit to Zimbabweans that have entered South Africa seeking political asylum and employment.

Innocent, a Zimbabwean staying in the city centre with a friend and younger brother, said he got a call at 3 am that the police were raiding Railway Street homes and taking people to prison.

“They were taking everyone, women, children and old people and throwing them into the trucks and being taken to Loop Street police station. I do not want to go to jail so I ran away,” said Innocent.

Innocent (28) said his asylum papers have expired and he has been going to Home Affairs for the past two months to try and renew them. “We have to travel down to Durban and every time that you get there they tell you they are busy come back some other time and now they want to throw us in jail for not having papers.”

He said he fears a repeat of the xenophobic attacks from last year.

Innocent has been living in South Africa for six years and sells beadwork to make a living. He said he came to the country to make a living for himself and to take money back to his family, but now all he wants is to go home.

Another Zimbabwean man, staying in Pietermaritz Street, who did not wish to be named, said some women from his building came to warn him to run away. “I saw out of my window people were just running,” he said. The man (34) works as a gardener and is staying with his employer and trying to get his permit.

His employer, who also wished to remain anonymous, said she was appalled that people were just being woken up in the middle of the night and being jailed. “This is cruel. I would like to know why this happens because our people were shielded when they were there,” she said.

“This is a human rights issue. He has been working for me for over a year and he has never started any trouble, he is a very nice man.

“It is not right what they are doing. My mother was an activist during apartheid, and she did exactly what I’m doing.”

Police spokeswoman Joey Jeevan confirmed that 216 Zimbabweans had been arrested.

“An immigration officer will come in to verify their papers — those who have legal status will be released and those who do not will be deported.”

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