On Friday, state officials raided the Central Methodist Church in the Johannesburg CBD, a building known for offering aÂ safe havenÂ to immigrants, particularly after the horrific xenophobic attacks of 2008. About 500 people were detained, without recourse to legal aid. Rights groups have now successfully sued for access to those in detention. ROSEÂ KACHINGWE* told Khadija Patel about her ordeal.
Itâ€™s one year that Iâ€™ve been living in the Methodist Church. I came to the Methodist Church because I did not have enough money to rent a place â€“ I was renting before. I sell sim cards. My child is three years old.
On Friday at around four in the morning, we saw the soldiers, guns and police. I was at the Central Methodist Church. Nearly everyone was sleeping. When they came â€“ the police, soldiers, home affairs â€“ they said everyone must wake up. They were kicking people; they were kicking in the doors â€“ it was horrible. Everyone was shocked. Why was this happening?
We were happy whenÂ we saw the home affairs people, because in January they came to the church to take our fingerprints and to sign our asylum forms. So we thought, okay these people are coming to offer us our papers. We were happy. But then they said all of us must go to the ground floor. When we triedÂ to talk to them, they were very rude; they didnâ€™t want to hear any words from anyone, anybody.
And then they said thatÂ those with papers they must go to oneÂ side. Those who had theirÂ papers with them went with the officials.
Some of us hadÂ left our papers inside, but they didnâ€™t even give us aÂ chance to go and get them. You cannot just put your papers anywhere; you have to hide them because these permits are important documents.
WeÂ asked them if we couldÂ go back and getÂ our papers, but they refused; they said you talk to the people at John Vorster, the central police station.
Most of us were in our pyjamas. To tell the truth even the children, they came out naked.Â We were harassed and no one is happy. No one is happy about the way they came. Itâ€™s like we killed somebody because they hadÂ gunsÂ and wereÂ following us. Thatâ€™s when we realisedÂ they didnâ€™t want to talk about asylum.
One of the ladies was asking whetherÂ they came to offer us papers. They said: â€œHey, hey Zimbabweans! You must go back home!â€
Most of us there are Zimbabwean. They are also people from the DRC, from Mozambique.
At John Vorster they were also rough. When they gave us papers, they were signing themselves â€“ they didnâ€™t even want to give us papers to sign for ourselves or let us read those papers. I donâ€™t even know what they talking about. But whatever was written there is shit.
When we were signing those papers, a home affairs lady who was attending my case hadÂ a statement that asked whether you want any help or deportation,Â so I said help. I said to her again help, and she said â€œNo, no!â€ and she ticked deportation â€“ she just ticked deportation. There was nothing I could do; she was in control, so I could not fight with her. And when she was filling in the form, she was saying sheâ€™d caught meÂ in Jeppe, at around 8 oâ€™clock. They didnâ€™t want to say they went to ourÂ home. That was another thing.
We were at the police station from past six when we went to John Vorster, forÂ almost theÂ whole day. Even when we asked for the toilet they just give us a room, a small room and they said we must do everything there. The children were with us and they didnâ€™t give our children food in time. They offered our children food at past three. The children were really crying. My child was saying: â€œMama, mama!â€ I said, go tell that policemen to give you food.
They donâ€™t want us to leave the police station. But they want us to go home.
Itâ€™s an embarrassment because you know what: we are friends â€“ we are related, South African and Zimbabwean.Â The way they treat us, even one of the policewomen was insulting us, saying: â€œWhy are you here?Â What do you people want here?Â We are sick and tired of you. We donâ€™t want you here, we donâ€™t even want to hear your stories.â€
We are waiting for our asylum papers, whichÂ home affairs promised us.Â Even when we tried to tell them â€“ you are the very people who came with this and now you are the people again to arrest us â€“ they didnâ€™t want to hear all that. So we are not prepared because we are waiting for the government to offer us what they promised us, which is asylum.
Yesterday our embassy came to see us. It’s not that we don’t want to go to Zimbabwe. We really want to go back, but the way they are taking us home is not a good way. I was planning for when I would go home so that Iâ€™d be prepared, but they just attacked.Â No one was prepared.
We were just waiting at the church to receive our asylum to be able to do everything else. Because without papers you cannot do anything. You cannot rent â€“ you canâ€™t do anything, even work. You know even the big companies they donâ€™t want a foreigner without papers. Even now, there is a job waiting for me, but they want asylum papers. So I was there, I was happy, I was waiting for my asylum papers, so I can go back to the company. But nowÂ we donâ€™t know.
But if they want they can even give us a second chance to finish our process or to give us a papers for a certain period to finish ourÂ planning. Because right now, no one came out of the church with their clothes or their money,Â or anything. We left everything there. We have to go back because our clothes, our money â€“ everything is there.
My message to the government: firstly, I want to ask them since the home affairs which is under the government, why did they come to us with asylum forms when they know they donâ€™t want us, when they know they want to attack us?Â We are ladies with children: why didÂ the government do this to us?
If they hadnâ€™t told us there is a chance of asylum, we could have done something to protect ourselves and our children. We could have planned a way forward, to maybe go home. You know, a good way. I donâ€™t even know what to say.