CAPE TOWN - I would like congratulate Brian Dzingai who has gone further in the Olympic 200m sprint than any Zimbabwean in history; he came fourth in one of the most contested events in the world. I am privileged to know him and was able to ask him for a word or two. 

The following report is from Leigh Ann Webster, a US-based student who spent three months interning at the South African Human Rights Commission here – she is a champion for the rights of Zimbabwean exiles.

Most American students in Cape Town simply do not spend a lot of time in the Department of Home Affairs queue with individuals attempting to put in their application for asylum.  However, thanks to PASSOP, I did.

My first glimpse of the heartlessness with which Home Affairs treats foreign nationals came when I turned a corner to find hundreds of people essentially living under a bridge.  I didn’t realise it then, but this area was designated by government officials as the queue, where individuals had to wait, frequently for days at a time, without fulfilment of most basic human necessities.

Though the location and process continue to change and deteriorate, one thing remains constant: the categorization and subsequent treatment of those applying for asylum as less important, and thus less human, than South African citizens.  This differentiation became increasingly clear with every conversation I had with an official from Home Affairs.  In these conversations, the officials would complain that processing the asylum-seekers and refugees was interfering with servicing their real clients, South African citizens.   In a country with such a progressive constitution and equally progressive immigration laws, this is unacceptable.  On a more fundamental basis, though, it is utterly shocking that people can continually be so callous towards individuals fleeing from countries fraught with violence, conflict, and instability.

Despite the obvious failures of the system, the individuals in the queue that I spoke to were surprisingly resilient.  Most did not hesitate to express frustration with this system, but they kept coming to the queue, frequently with children in hand or at risk of losing their jobs.  It is this willingness to do whatever necessary to become legal that I admire.  Their actions demonstrated a determination to create stability and a life out of circumstances created to engender chaos and fear.  That determination deserves respect, not only by me, but also by the South African government.

Post published in: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *