SA slams arrest of homeless Zim

Resource type: News

The Mercury |

Lawyers for Human Rights and the Legal Resources Centre are Atlantic grantees.

South African human rights organisations on Saturday condemned the arrest of about 300 destitute Zimbabwean nationals.

“We have been informed by the SAPS (South African Police Service) that the purpose of the raid was to clear the streets and enforce municipal bylaws,” the Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Resources Centre said in a joint statement.

“Large numbers of SAPS and metro police swooped on 344 people seeking shelter from cold, shortly after midnight,” the statement added.

Bishop Paul Verryn of the Central Methodist Church said among those arrested were women and children.

The church is situated in central Johannesburg and provides shelter to several hundred refugees, who sleep in the building, most of whom had fled the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe.

“This is definitely a political decision, we’ve had people living on the street all over the country for many years and they are not arrested. They are targeting specifically this area, they are trying to intimidate these people whose only crime is being poor,” he said.

Verryn said there were more than 2,500 Zimbabweans inside the church.

“They (police) want to get rid of these people without offering any alternative, where are they supposed to go?”

Police spokesman Wayne Minnaar said more than 300 people were arrested between Friday night and early hours of Saturday.

He said the people were arrested for loitering and sleeping on the pavements, following numerous complaints from the high court and business owners in the city.

“They have been arrested for loitering, they will have to pay a R300 fine or appear in court Monday.”

However Lawyers for Human Rights spokesman Jacob Van Garderen said “the only crime they committed is to be destitute without shelter”.

Minnaar said the raids were going to continue. “This is part of an ongoing programme, we will definitely continue with the raids.”

The lawyers said they were refused access to the arrested people.

“In spite of our requests, we have not been permitted to consult with those in detention. – AFP