Pretoria - The dramatic eviction of refugees over the past few days outside the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Brooklyn, Pretoria, was marked by some tense stand-offs between police and the foreign nationals.
However, in the middle of all this chaos was a brave fighter for the marginalised, who stood her ground.
She is Deborah Raduba, an attorney at the Land and Housing Programme of Lawyers for Human Rights in Pretoria.
Small in stature but with the heart of a lion, Raduba fought for the rights and dignity of those who have camped on the pavement since 2019.
They were removed on Friday following a court order obtained by resident associations in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.
The court order stated arrangements had been made for them to be taken to the Lindela Repatriation Centre in Krugersdorp.
But apart from a father and his eight children and a handful of others, the rest refused Lindela Centre as an alternative.
Most have now settled on a farm just outside Bronkhorstspruit.
Raduba was, during the often hectic scenes surrounding the removal of the refugees, one of the voices of reason despite having to face hostility at times, including threats of arrest from the police.
On the day when the asylum seekers/refugees were due to be evicted, Lawyers for Human Rights initially played a monitoring role to ensure due process was followed.
“Lawyers for Human Rights’ position was that meaningful engagement should take place between stakeholders, and maintained that the Lindela Repatriation Centre is not appropriate as alternative accommodation.
“It is shocking, unheard of and inconceivable that a detention facility (equivalent to a prison) is where these people were to be taken,” Raduba said.
“One cannot help but think of the institutionalised xenophobia that would lead key decision makers to even consider this as a viable option.”
Lawyers for Human Rights was concerned about the children being separated from their parents and that violence could have erupted while children were around.
The refugees asked Lawyers for Human Rights to be placed elsewhere where the court order was not in effect (outside the vicinity of Brooklyn, Pretoria).
The organisation, alongside other NGOs, assisted the refugees to carry their possessions to a spot a distance away from the UNHCR. Raduba said this move evoked hostility from police and some of the surrounding residents.
“While this was happening, Lawyers for Human Rights was attempting to secure some form of shelter for the refugees.
“It is shameful that at this stage, Lawyers for Human Rights staff and NGOs were threatened with arrest when they were simply trying to help destitute people.”
Raduba said in normal eviction proceedings, a detention facility (such as Lindela) has never been identified as alternative accommodation. “But when it comes to non-nationals, this is the case.”
It is equally shameful that people with limited resources – such as Lawyers for Human Rights – who tried to come up with another resolution were vilified, Raduba said.
“As one of the refugees said, ‘it is a crime to be a refugee in South Africa’. Given the turn of events, it is understandable why they no longer want to live in this country. Is the Constitution only for citizens?”
Eventually, there was a collaborative effort to move the refugees to the farm in Bronkhorstspruit, where they are now. “Imagine if this was the case from the very start,” Raduba said.
This fierce fighter for justice, who holds an LLB and an LLM degree, has always had a passion for social justice. She holds an LLM degree in constitutional litigation and human rights.
Raduba joined Lawyers for Human Rights as an intern and did her articles at this organisation, where she is now a lawyer.
She joined Lawyers for Human Rights because she resonated with the core beliefs of the organisation – deepening democracy within South Africa and using the law as an instrument for positive change. Raduba, however, will be leaving Lawyers for Human Rights at the end of June to be a clerk at the Constitutional Court.