The Robertson hospital in the Western Cape confiscated the passport of a 25-year-old Zimbabwean woman on May 19, after she went there to seek treatment.
Chiedza* said that on the first day she sought treatment she was handed her hospital file without any questions, GroundUp reports.
When she returned for a follow-up, she was asked to show her ID.
The receptionist then told her that because her passport visa had expired she wasn’t going to get her file. Instead the hospital would keep her passport for seven days while it contacted Home Affairs.
On May 22, the hospital rang Chiedza asking that she collect her passport.
She went to the hospital the following day and was told to wait until her name was called. A few minutes later she saw Home Affairs officials arriving and was introduced to them.
Two weeks to buy bus ticket
The Home Affairs officials asked her to fill in a couple of forms and then informed her that she had two weeks to seek money to buy a bus ticket to Zimbabwe.
They kept her passport and gave her one of the forms instead. They explained that once she had bought the bus ticket, she could collect her passport from the hospital and then leave the country.
She picks lemons and naartjies on a Robertson farm. Buying a ticket back to Zimbabwe is not easy for her: she earns about R600 per week.
Chiedza said that the officials had a stack of about 20 passports including hers.
She claimed it was common for Robertson hospital to confiscate passports of immigrants mainly from Zimbabwe and Lesotho.
Sandra Maritz, spokesperson for the health department’s Cape Winelands District, said that Section 44 of the Immigration Act compels the department to determine if a person receiving services is a citizen of the country and to report cases where their status is unclear, or illegal, to the director-general.
But an attorney for the Legal Resources Centre, Elgene Roos, said that Section 44 provides for verification of a person’s status, "where possible". This suggests that it is not necessary to verify the status or citizenship of someone to render a service.
*Her identity cannot be revealed as she is still in the country illegally.