28 die at SA’s ‘concentration camp’
One of the pictures smuggled out of
Lindela refugee repatriation centre, showing the crowded conditions there.
LONDON – A staggering 28 people have died at
South Africa’s notorious Lindela repatriation center, near Krugersdorp, in the
first seven months of this year, according to minutes of South Africa’s
parliamentary Home Affairs portfolio committee in the possession of The
Zimbabwean. Seven of these died in the camp itself, and 21 died after being
transferred to the nearby Leratong Hospital.
It is not clear how many were Zimbabweans – but
the majority of the camp’s 4000 inmates are known to be Zimbabwean asylum
seekers awaiting re-patriation. Officials have only confirmed the deaths of two
who died last month – one of them was a pregnant teenager, Alice Tshuma, whose
body is still lying unclaimed at the mortuary.
The committee has
initiated a meeting for August 30, in Cape Town, to meet representatives of the
inmates. This will be followed by a meeting the next day with the department of
Home Affairs, which is responsible for administering the camp.
to the minutes, officials told the committee they were unable to tell the cause
of death of the 28 inmates as it had not been possible to locate the relatives
of the deceased. “These relatives were needed to sign certain documents that
would allow autopsies to be conducted to discover the cause of death. Without
relatives an autopsy could only be carried out if there was a criminal case,” he
explained. Natural deaths had therefore been assumed in most cases.
minutes show that the South Africans are battling a backlog of 180 000 asylum
seekers who have yet to be processed. Lindela has a holding capacity of 4004 and
is already full. The committee was told that most of the asylum seekers cross
into the country through the Giant Limpopo transfrontier park which encompasses
Kruger National Park in South Africa, Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe and Mozambique’s
Several people have been killed by wild animals while
attempting to cross the park on foot. The Park is yet to be officially opened
shortly by the presidents of the three countries. This will involve the removal
of further sections of the fence allowing for the free movement of animals and
people along the length of the international borders within the boundaries of
A group of seven clergymen, alarmed at reports coming from the
camp, visited Lindela from Zimbabwe last week and described it as 'a
concentration camp’. They met the commissioner of police for Gauteng Province,
Ray Naidoo, and said they were encouraged by his concern for the welfare of
Zimbabweans at Lindela.
A spokesperson for the group, Rev Vimbai Mugwidi
from the Methodist Church, urged Zimbabweans to file detailed complaints of any
incidents of ill treatment with the police in order to make it easier for full
investigations to take place. “The SA officials have an attitude that there is
no war in Zimbabwe. This makes it difficult for Zimbabweans to be granted asylum
or refugee status. As a result, they are living in more misery and more terror
than they fled from,” she explained.
There have been several reports of
South African policemen demanding bribes and sexual favours from asylum seekers
to save themselves from being sent to Lindela.
One of the officials
complained to the committee that cameras had been smuggled into the center to
document conditions there. He said the problem was compounded by inmates being
allowed to keep their cell phones, some of which had cameras, and appealed for
‘this problem’ to be addressed.
Other problems highlighted in the
minutes included very high staff turnover, poor security and the theft of 20 new
computers in the past year. An official told the committee that security cameras
situated near where the break-in took place had been removed on ‘instructions
from new management’.
Officials admitted that there was ‘a serious lack
of knowledge’ among those dealing with refugee matters – including the
‘protection and welfare of refugees’ and said there was insufficient information
at ministerial level about the government’s obligations towards them.
committee visited Lindela last year and said it found the conditions ‘satisfying
- unlike those described in the media’.
At a meeting to coordinate
refugee activities recently, Joyce Dube of Southern Africa Women Migration
(SAWIMA) painted a gloomy picture of Lindela. Dube said her organization, which
had been holding demonstrations to put pressure on the SA government to improve
conditions at the camp, was going to take the case to Amnesty International for
One human rights lawyer said he was having difficulty
accessing his clients at Lindela.
"Sometimes we are told the person has
been moved while in fact he is languishing in the camp and you have to put
pressure to get past the various barriers," he said, adding that most of the
people from Lindela come out ill or die shortly after being released. “Food
poisoning is being suspected at the camp and the living conditions are
deplorable,” he said.
One man who was deported to Zimbabwe but came back
said the situation is terrible and the camp overcrowded. “Disease is rampant in
the camp. The remand prisons are much better than the situation at the camp. You
have to close your eyes to eat. The SA government should really make an effort
to deal with this deteriorating situation,” he said. Catering at Lindela is
sub-contracted to a local company which is paid R59 per person per day to feed