More than 1 000 Malawian ‘illegal immigrants’ are currently being held at the Lindela Repatriation Centre, South Africa’s only detention centre for undocumented migrants. The number of Malawians is increasing. A situation that is seen as a reflection of deepening economic hardship in Malawi.
“Malawians are flocking to South Africa every day and the numbers are growing,” said Professor Chrissie Kaponda, the Malawian High Commissioner to South Africa.
“Most of them say they want to find jobs, yet they lack proper documentation. The situation is very worrisome,” she added.
Kaponda said she understood that 45 percent of those held at the centre come from Malawi.
Lindela, situated in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg, is the only facility of its kind in South Africa where illegal migrants are detained while awaiting deportation. It is managed on behalf of the Home Affairs Department by Bosasa Operations.
Malawi, one of Africa’s poorest countries, has experienced major economic difficulties since the suspension of donor aid in late 2013 in the wake of Cashgate, the looting of public finances by private business people, government officials and commercial bank staff.
More than half of Malawians live below the poverty line, while at least 2.8 million are estimated to suffer from food insecurity this year alone.
This in turn has affected the price of maize, the staple in Malawi. The maize price currently stands at about K15 500 for a 50 kg bag, compared to K5 500 at the same time last year.
An attorney who does strategic litigation for Lawyers for Human Rights, Wayne Ncube, said that those held at Lindela previously were Zimbabweans. The balance had now shifted, so that Malawians were in the majority.
“There have been many arrests since May last year, and it is true that the number of Malawians affected has grown.
“We are working on various issues relating to the welfare of the migrants. We are working with the South African Human Rights Commission on investigating certain deaths that happened at Lindela,” he said.
Ncube declined to provide more details, saying the matter is still under investigation.