The deaths of two more Zimbabwean asylum-seekers in South Africa's notorious Lindela Detention Centre at Krugersdorp on the outskirts of Johannesburg last month has sparked outrage from human rights organisations and calls for an official enquiry into the deaths.
Alice Chumba, who was only 18 years old and pregnant, died of complications on July 4, just five days after being admitted. Mcabangeli Mlambo, who was 22, died the following day after vomiting blood. According to Papele Shabane of Bosasa, the private company contracted to manage the centre by the Department of Home Affairs, Mlambo visited the clinic twice and was later taken to the sick bay. When detainees become ill at Lindela they are sent to Leratong hospital for treatment but Shabane said Mlambo died before he could be admitted.
Remember Moyo, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Action Support Group (ZASG), visited Lindela after the deaths to assess the situation and described it as very painful. "The centre is far too crowded and there is very limited medical attention," he said. "When people are sick it usually takes a long time for them to be treated, especially if they become ill during the night." He also pointed out that detainees were locked into their sleeping quarters during the late afternoon and the doors were only opened the following morning.
Although figures are not available for the number of deaths recorded at Lindela, estimates vary widely. Zim Online reported on 21 October last year that, according to the director of the Southern African Women's Institute for Migration Affairs, Joyce Dube, at least three Zimbabweans were dying every month due to the poor conditions. However, in her view this number could be even higher because some of the illegal immigrants were never identified as they did not carry passports.
Moyo agreed that many people had died and said his organisation was considering various approaches such as demonstrating outside the Department of Home Affairs in Johannesburg, at the United Nations offices or even at Lindela.
On 3 August a Sokwanele reporter spoke to two Zimbabwean asylum seekers who had been detained previously at Lindela. The first was "Prudence" (26), a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporter who fled from Zimbabwe because her husband and daughter had been killed by ZANU PF supporters. She said she had been sent to Lindela a number of times because she had been unable to get an asylum-seeker's permit from Home Affairs. They always tell you to come back tomorrow and tomorrow," she said, "it is so difficult."
Prudence said detainees in Lindela did not receive enough food and what was available was of a very poor quality. She explained that it was bitterly cold in winter, with insufficient blankets to keep people warm at night. While she was there three people died, two from Maputo and one from Zimbabwe. "People are coughing all the time but there are no doctors," she said.
"Lucas" (27), who is also an MDC supporter, left Zimbabwe after escalating harassment by ZANU PF supporters made him fear for his life. He was arrested by the police and spent two weeks in Lindela at the height of winter. "It was so cold that it was difficult for us to sleep and the food was very bad," he said. "While I was there, two guys from Mozambique died during the night, but the security staff did not seem to care." One of the men had been coughing continuously for four days and passed away in the next but one bed to him. Although Lucas had been concerned about his deteriorating state of health, they had not spoken to each other because of the language problem.
According to Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh of Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) in Johannesburg, the prevalence of respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and bronchitis, as well as airborne viruses and diarrhoea, is exacerbated by bad hygiene and overcrowding. Outbreaks of body lice have also been reported. LHR has condemned the lack of medical facilities available at Lindela, but the authorities have done nothing to upgrade the clinic, which provides little more than Panado.
Remember Moyo believes better facilities should be available on site to protect the health of the detainees. Although there is a trained nurse at the clinic, she is not always accessible. "It is very worrying that most people are sick but everyone seems to be given the same tablets, irrespective of their symptoms," he said. Last year, when Zimbabwe Exiles Forum co-ordinator Gabriel Shumba visited Lindela, he described the conditions as life-threatening.
At the time of writing, Mcabangeli Mlambo's relatives have been located and they are working on arrangements with the Southern African Women's Institute for Migration Affairs. The organisation is still trying to locate the relatives of Alice Chumba.
The Zimbabwe Action Support Group encourages all asylum seekers to register with their organisation and with other Zimbabwean organisations so that their details can be recorded and assistance provided wherever possible.
Remember Moyo (Chairperson): SA cell: 072 032 4223
Rogers Mudarikwa (Co-ordinator: SA cell: 083 753 0399