Johannesburg – Two South African women, who were wrongly arrested during counterfeit raids on suspicion they were foreign nationals, on Wednesday recounted the horrors they faced for five days while in police custody.
The siblings Emmarangia and Zula Adaama were among the hundreds of “foreign nationals” rounded up during the counterfeit raids in the CBD last week on Wednesday.
Along with other suspects they were held at the Johannesburg Central Police Station, where they spent five days behind bars in an overcrowded cell.
Born of a Zulu mother and Scottish father, the sisters who have different complexions, were bundled into a police van – that was the beginning of their nightmare.
Recounting how they were nabbed, younger sibling Emmarangia said: “We were having breakfast along Delvas street, not so far from our place and next thing about 30 or 40 officers walked in and ordered us to stand in a line and demanded our papers.
“Because we just went there to eat, we obviously did not have the documents with us,
“We were taken to an office where our fingerprints were processed and the officers said: Yes, they do smell Ethiopian and they look Ethiopian too. My verification came out with my profile and picture and passed.
“But it said I was a neutralised South African … the police insisted I was ‘mixed’ and had to explain how I got the ID,” lamented Emmarangia.
Elder sister Zula, with darker skin complexion, said for some reason, her fingerprints drew a blank.
Later on the same day, the arrested siblings managed to send word to a neighbour who brought their identity documents to the police station.
However, the police refused to release them and instead locked them up in a cell with 36 other women.
“People were getting released, they were obviously paying bribes and that is when we called the guy from our building who managed to get a hold of our family friend who is our neighbour who brought our IDs,” surmised Zula.
Soon after the raids police said the had picked up more than 500 suspected foreign nationals whose status in the country they would check with the assistance of home affairs.
During their court appearance on Monday of the foreign nationals it emerged that while in police custody some suspects were denied visitation, given little or no food and in some instances assaulted.
“They had people from all walks of life whose family could not come in to drop of food or clothes for them. They wanted no foreign national to enter the police station. If you had money and you’re a South African they let you in,” said Emmarangia.
She complained about being moved to different cells instead of being released.
Emmarangia said conditions inside the cells were unbearable.
“The conditions of the cells are so disgusting – dirty, filthy, unhygienic. The toilet doesn’t flush. There were 38 of us in one cell. I was sleeping next to a smelly, leaking toilet,” recounted Emmarangia.
“I had to make a little space there with a dirty blanket. The sponges are dirty. The toilets don’t flush and the room is quite small. Two rolls of toilet paper the whole day and no one can relieve themselves because there is only one small bucket. No place to even brush your teeth – the basin has a lot of filth and dirt.”
Her sister recalled an incident in which a woman “almost died in the cell”.
“She collapsed and could not breathe and they handcuffed her hands and feet and said she is a suspect. That woman was so disoriented and could not even walk,” said Zula.
Angered by their treatment, she recalled that other women in the cells went on their knees and prayed for “South Africa to rot in the fire of hell”.
Shocked and disappointed, the siblings said they excused themselves from that Friday prayer, which coincided with Women’s Day.
“I really didn’t expect them to pray for the downfall of South Africa … or that people in South Africa who reject people from other countries need to burn and feel the rejection upon themselves and have no peace and no rest,” said Emmarangia.
On Saturday after a home affairs official cleared them and said they could go home, but police did not release them.
“It was almost like they were running away from us. No none wanted to sign us out because they realised they had made a big mistake. They then told us to wait for the station commander to sign us out Sunday 6 am,” said Emmarangia.
She said they had to wait until 11 am when a policeman agreed to take them to their flat so they could produce other documents to prove they were South Africans.
“He took us to our flat and realised we have the keys. We got our passports, gave them to him … we were taken back to the police station and eventually released at 3 pm,” said Zula.
She added she was now embarrassed to be a South African.
“The hatred for foreign nationals is appalling and the fact that they discriminate by just looking at people, it is exactly like the apartheid era,” said Zula.
Contacted for comment, Brigadier Mathapelo Peters from the police said verification of status was a mandate of the Department of Home Affairs and not that of the SA Police Service.
“I cannot speak or comment on behalf of home affairs but I will follow up on the case numbers,” she said.
Hundreds of foreign nationals have been detained at the Lindela Repatriation Centre, where they are awaiting deportation.