A police officer searches a foreign national during a raid in Marabastad. Some foreigners claim that searches like these often lead to their harassment and abuse at the hands of the police. Picture: Phill Magakoe

Pretoria - Foreign nationals in Pretoria say they are caught between a rock and a hard place – on the one hand they fear xenophobic attacks, while they are also living in fear of being harassed by police as incidents of demands for bribes and confiscation of documentation increase.

They have accused the police and other government departments of increasingly being hostile towards them.

While attacks by South Africans on foreigners have ended, those who turned to the Pretoria News told stories of being stopped, searched, questioned and being thrown into the back of police vehicles and driven to police stations “for no reason”.

“You are not safe no matter how sure you are that all your papers are in order,” a Zimbabwean man from Sunnyside said.

Asking not to be named for fear of victimisation, the man said he was called off the street by police and initially accused of being an illegal immigrant. When he produced proof that he was legal, they ordered him into the van.

“They drove around with me and then asked me how much I had so they could let me go.”

The middle-aged job seeker had no money and therefore spent a night in a cell before being released the following morning.

A Nigerian-born South African medical practitioner accused the Department of Home Affairs of making it difficult for foreign nationals to get any type of permit since last year.

Dr Flora Umoetok, who has worked in several hospitals in South Africa for the past 23 years, fears that her family will be kicked out of the country after visa applications for her life partner Mfoniso Udede and niece Evelyn Akpan were turned down.

Udede’s application was rejected on the grounds that he had not received a police clearance from Nigeria and that the couple had an invalid notarial contract, while her niece’s failed because there was no proof of kinship.

But Umoetok said she had provided a new Nigerian clearance and renewed notarial contract. “It’s not like these people are new here. They had permits before,” she said.

“I pay more than R30 000 a month towards tax and I have been working here for 23 years and have been working for government. Yet nobody takes me seriously.”

Umoetok said her partner was arrested during the government’s Operation Fiela because his permit had not been renewed.

A Nigerian IT technician from Pretoria North told a story of his constant fear and sleepless nights. “I have nightmares of a loud knock on my door and being taken away by the police,” he said.

The man said his tale of terror started when he was woken up by a loud knock and a demand that he open up for the police at 4am.

“I complied and, before I knew it, there were cops all over, turning my bed up and pulling drawers out. I gave them my passport, tax certificate and membership cards of the professional bodies I am affiliated to,” he said. He was led to a waiting police vehicle and detained there with other foreigners for two hours before they were driven off to Akacia police station.

They were kept there for about three hours while their documents were scrutinised and their fingerprints taken. “We were threatened and told we would be taken to a deportation camp. When they eventually allowed us to leave, they kept our passports without giving us a reason.”

He is traumatised and said his life had changed drastically. “I no longer speak in public nor socialise outside work in case my accent gives away the fact that I am not South African,” he said.

A Zimbabwean from Pretoria east said: “The assumption is that we want to be here so much that we will do anything, including pay bribes.”

He said that his employer called Home Affairs to complain after he had been taken for a ride, literally, by the police and asked to pay up before being allowed to leave. The employer was told it was “a trend to use foreign nationals as ATMs” by police.

The government has, meanwhile, denied that Operation Fiela was aimed at targeting foreign nationals and said it was aimed to ensure law and order and the safety of all law-abiding citizens – including foreigners.

Gauteng provincial police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said corruption was unacceptable and officers involved were a burden to the service.

He urged members of the community to expose corrupt officers and called on the victims to come forward. Cases of corruption may be reported at any police station.

“The complainants should be able to identify the perpetrators. It does not matter when the incident happened; once it has been reported they would be a thorough investigation,” he added.

The Department of Home Affairs had not yet commented by late Sunday.

Last Thursday, Tshwane metro police conducted Operation Fiela in the CBD, Marabastad and Sunnyside to address illegal activities, during which 88 arrests were made, including 31 illegal immigrants.

Pretoria News