Pretoria - Three foreign nationals were injured in clashes between their group and security personnel at the Home Affairs refugee centre in Marabastad.
According to the foreign nationals, they got angry because they were required to pay bribes in order to get assistance. However, Home Affairs denied this and said Somalis and Ethiopians were clashing about who should be assisted first.
Ahmed Hassan, who was assaulted, allegedly by a security guard, said he fell to the ground and fainted.
Later, he told the Pretoria News: “My wife, who is eight months' pregnant, can’t access hospital or clinic services until I pay R1 500 to get our papers sorted at this centre.
“I feel like this situation was designed to dehumanise us and send a message to us that we are unwanted in this country.”
On realising Hassan was on the ground, the other foreign nationals started throwing stones at security personnel. The riot escalated when metro police fired rubber bullets at the foreign nationals. A security guard was injured after being hit by a stone. Windows at the centre were also smashed.
The centre remained closed for most of the day, with police keeping an eye on the situation.
Motorists could not drive through E’skia Mphahlele Drive as the road was blocked with stones and rubble. “We were peaceful, but when Hassan was hit like an animal, we started to retaliate,” said Yahya Ali.
He said hundreds of cases of vulnerable asylum seekers at the centre were documented regularly in the hope that a change in policy and systems would decrease the high level of corruption.
“These people solicit bribes. I stood outside since the early hours of the morning and they never gave me attention because I had not paid,” said Mohammed Elme.
He said the department always blamed them for the anarchy at the centre. “But the reality is that this was created... to control the influx of foreign nationals to South Africa.”
However, Home Affairs spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete said the riot had nothing to do with corruption. “It was a clash between the Somalia and Ethiopian nationals, apparently because the other group demanded preferential treatment over the other,” he said.
Tshwete said even if the allegations were true, public violence was not the proper way to address it.