Lockdown Log: A prisoner in a foreign land

Candice Nolan / Aug 19, 2020

Lockdown Log: A prisoner in a foreign land


According to a GroundUp report, about 24 foreign nationals remain in detention despite release orders. And yet three short years ago, the Constitutional Court pronounced on the issue of immigration detention. That judgment made it compulsory for detained foreigners to appear before a court within 48 hours. The order also makes it illegal to hold such a foreigner in custody for longer than 120 days.

It is a sad indictment that this injunction has been ignored. Instead, it remains a crime to be caught without an identity document in South Africa. A remnant of the pass laws. Alpha Mntambo’s only crime was having a non South African mother. This country is the only home he knows. But he has no paper’s to prove it. So he was deported to Zimbabwe and remains missing to this day.

Years ago, I met Khumbulani Frederick Ngubane. He has a desire to learn to play the piano. But his entire future has been put on hold. Simply because he cannot prove that he exists. It must be all kinds of frustrating. He cannot walk around freely. Because at any point a police officer may stop him and ask him for his ID. But he was the victim of identity theft and his ID has been flagged.

He has been in police detention countless times. He even spent time at Lindela Repatriation Centre. Months on end. No other country wanted him. Not least of all the country where he was born. The problem is that he needs to find someone who witnessed his birth. His mother passed away years ago. And he has been unable to track his maternal or paternal relatives.

I kept in touch with him during the lockdown. He found refuge at a church, where he has some kind of employment. Nowadays, its safer to stay off the streets. The Church is in a suburb. But he dare not venture into the city centre. And his days of indefinite immigration detention are over. I guess his given up. It’s hard work trying to prove your very existence. It’s as though the world has gone mad!

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