'Immigrants are getting a raw deal'

Published Jun 20, 2005


By Alameen Templeton and Solly Maphumulo

Pakistani Enser Iqbal was visiting his friends in Doornfontein when police allegedly stormed into the house, demanding money.

The police allegedly threatened to arrest the seven friends if they did not pay up.

The men refused, showing the police their Pakistani passports to prove they were foreigners.

The police then allegedly took all the passports, plus Iqbal's cellphone and bank card.

The next day, when Iqbal reported his card stolen and applied for a replacement card, he discovered that R1 000 had been withdrawn from his account.

Muhammad Haseeb has been living in South Africa for the past eight years. In January, he was with Iqbal when police allegedly attacked them.

"I told them I have a passport and that I am a South African citizen. They did not listen to me, they ransacked the house and found R2 700, which they put in their pockets. When I asked them what they were doing, they said: 'F**k you'," Haseeb claimed.

His nightmare began when he asked one of the police officers to take off his shoes before he entered his prayer room.

"He tore up my holy book (Qur'an) and it was scattered all over the floor. He screamed: 'I will f*****g kill you'," Haseeb claimed

The police started roughing up his friends in the dining room.

The police took their cellphones and bank cards and then arrested them.

Haseeb phoned the South African Police Service Jeppe station commander, who released Haseeb's friends but did not return their passports.

In February 2003, Haseeb claimed, he received a phone call from one of the police officers, who had asked him to fix his computer.

"He was my friend and worked in Jeppe police station. He asked me to meet him in Newtown. When I went there, he was with another police officer.

"He handcuffed me and asked me to pay him R5 000. I refused. I told him I had my passport," he said.

"They searched me and found a cellphone. They took my laptop from my car. They then locked me inside a (tiny) private room. I took out my other cellphone and phoned my friends to come and get me.

"When they arrived, they were told that I had stolen a computer, but the policeman was the one who had asked me to fix it."

Haseeb said he was released and his laptop was returned to him.

Johannesburg police spokesperson Constable Sefako Xaba said the matter would be investigated.

"We encourage people to come forward if they come across similar problems. If a police officer is asking you to pay him, that is corruption. We get our salaries every month."

But Iqbal and Haseeb's experiences are not isolated.

A new nationalism, fostering a hatred for immigrants, is rotting South Africa from the inside, undermining its hard-earned democracy, according to Dr Loren Landau, the head of Wits University's forced migration studies programme.

Landau hit out on Sunday at xenophobia, which he said was turning immigrants into "mobile ATMs" for police and criminals who saw them as a source of instant cash.

Criminals know they can rob them without worrying about being reported, while police know that most foreigners would prefer to pay a bribe than be sent to the Lindela repatriation camp outside Krugersdorp.

Abeda Bhamjee, the spokesperson for Amnesty International in South Africa, laid part of the blame at the feet of the new National Immigration Branch, which she said perpetuated the same old thinking patterns, habits and even faces of the old South Africa.

The branch was supposed to be a new, professionalised service, "but one has to wonder if they aren't trying to teach an old dog the same old tricks".

The bastardisation of the "Batho Pele" (People First) spirit - whereby home affairs and police officials held out their hands for bribes - was a phenomenon well known to staff at the Wits Law Clinic, who regularly represented people unlawfully detained. Demands for bribes were almost standard.

Landau said administrative discrimination and anti-immigrant policing campaigns, were fuelling networks of corruption and privatised violence.

While poor South Africans regularly cheered the deportation of immigrants who "steal our jobs", research showed that immigrants were far likelier than South Africans to be law-abiding, start their own businesses and create jobs for their South African counterparts, he said.

Landau described a joint 2003 operation by the City of Johannesburg and the department of home affairs - which used helicopters and about 1 000 private security officers for the exercise - as "a thinly disguised effort to rid the city of unwanted foreigners in the name of crime prevention and urban renewal".

The operation netted four illegal firearms - "modest by Johannesburg standards" - and the arrest of 198 immigrants, he wryly noted.

Detaining and deporting tens of thousands of illegal immigrants every year was too costly and impractical to continue indefinitely.

Related Topics: