Lindela Repatriation Escape: Suspended security guards heading to the CCMA

Portfolio Committee chair on Home Affairs Bongani Bongo on an oversight visit at the Lindela Repatriation Centre in Krugersdorp, Johannesburg.
Portfolio Committee chair on Home Affairs Bongani Bongo on an oversight visit at the Lindela Repatriation Centre in Krugersdorp, Johannesburg.
Sesona Ngqakamba, News24

Suspended employees, including security guards who were on duty when 37 illegal immigrants escaped from the Lindela Repatriation Centre, are calling on the Department of Home Affairs to prove that they assisted the escapees.

The employees are contracted by a private company in charge of security at the centre. 

While the department claims the escape was an inside job, the suspended workers are questioning how the allegations will be proved as the department deported more than 900 immigrants back to their countries over the weekend. 

"We still call upon the department, since it has been [saying] that they (workers) informed migrants to escape, to bring forward those migrants who say so, or it will remain an allegation that is not even tested," said General Thekiso of Black Power Civil Rights Movement. 

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Thekiso was speaking outside the facility on Monday, following an oversight visit by Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs. 

The organisation represents the suspended employees.  

The department claims the security guards aided the dozens who escaped because of issues with their employer.

During a visit to the facility, following the escape last week, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the employees had knocked off at 14:00 instead of 17:00 on the day of the escape because of disagreements they had with the company. 

"They (the escapees) were tipped off by guards that they would be leaving early and that they could do what they want," Motsoaledi said at the time.  

But Thekiso said that, for the employees to be blamed, there needed to be proof and evidence by those saying they were tipped off.

Thekiso said the department could not rely on hearsay.

'Not giving up on workers' 

He said the organisation would take the case to the CCMA on Tuesday.

He added that labour experts were drafting the documents to take the matter further. The experts were also assisting those who had been dismissed for their involvement in escapes at the facility.

"We are not going to give up on these workers. We will be funding the cases and making sure that, when it leaves the CCMA, if it is not in their favour, it goes to the Labour Court, and up to the Constitutional Court. 

"Because we feel that these workers were just targeted by hatred because they refused to listen," Thekiso said.

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Outlining the workers' plight to committee chairperson Bongani Bongo, Thekiso said employees were not consulted when the private company changed their working hours from eight hours to 12 hours.

He added that the security guards were not given danger allowances and crowd control equipment, and were not covered for injuries they sustained on duty due to assaults by the foreign nationals kept at the centre.

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The workers allege that there had been two other escapes at the centre - one on 30 November, where 95 immigrants escaped, and another on 28 March, where four people escaped.  

Scores of employees were suspended or dismissed for the escapes, including last week's.

"The four that escaped injured one of the security guards. The building on its own is dilapidated. The department must first inspect the building fully before they can take the responsibility and put it on the poor workers who have nothing. They must not shift the responsibility," Thekiso said.  

'I can’t buy food at home'

The employees said, when they signed their contracts with the now-liquidated Bosasa, their working times were eight hours, but the new employer extended it - with no additional pay.

In a reply to the group, Bongo said the committee would be working with the Department of Home Affairs on the complaints raised.

Among those dismissed after the escape in March was Bongani Khalala, 47.

Khalala, who worked at the facility's control room, said he had been at home since being dismissed. He added that it was tough, especially because of Covid-19. 

"That's why we are here now because we are supporting the guys who are still on suspension. We know that they are going to be dismissed as well," Khalala said. 

Frans Greeff, who also worked in the control room, was suspended and said he had been at home for over a month now. He blamed the cameras, which monitored the area, for not working.

"These cameras that we use, we couldn't see when the people left, and I was suspended for that after the [March] escape," said Greeff.

"I can't buy food at home; I can't pay my accounts. Everything is at a standstill, everything, I can't even pour petrol in my car. So we are waiting for the management to call us for the appeal."

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