First published in the M&G online on January 31, 2013:
Following the police incidence in which, Mido Macia, a Mozambican taxi driver was dragged on the streets of Johannesburg and later died from his injuries, I repost an article I published early in the year based on interviews with homeless migrants in Pretoria and their interactions with the South African police and other institutions.
We first meet Patrick Naimana on a Tuesday evening at a soup kitchen outreach with staff from the Tswhane Leadership Foundation. We ask him whether we can meet with more of his colleagues for an interview. He agrees to set up the meeting.
Home for Naimana and his colleagues is a car park on Prinsloo Street next to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices on Francis Baard Street (formerly Schoeman Street). This is the first stop for the soup kitchen van after it leaves the foundation’s premises.
A man emerges from the shadows and comes to the van when we park. He says he will run and alert the others. The lilt of his voice makes me know that he is from Uganda. I can trace that accent anywhere. I learn his name is John.
John returns with five men. One of them, Mohammed, stands tall and distinguished. He softly requests for two soup bowls. We want to chat with him but he is hesitant to talk. He asks if we can return another time. He tells us to ask for Mohammed. He says he is from Somalia and has to rush back to his ailing brother. His brother, he says, is sick and is lying under a tree. He needs to take him food. He dashes off into the darkness.
Naimana interjects that the metro police beat up Mohammed’s brother. He is too weak to walk but is getting better he says, but needs prayers. We promise to say a prayer for him.
We schedule an interview and exchange numbers with Naimana. He tells us to be in Pretoria at 6am before everyone leaves in search for the day’s meal. We agree to have breakfast with them.
Breaking the news
On the Friday morning, when we arrive at the car park a little after 6am, we find that Naimana has spoken to his colleagues about us as promised. We have carried breakfast to share with the group. We set up the picnic basket and put clothes on the grass which will serve as our mats. Breakfast is tea, coffee, a mix of vegetable and meat sandwiches, and apples.
Naimana breaks the news to us. He says there was a police operation the previous night and some men were captured and will be deported. John, the Ugandan, was among those captured.
He adds that Mohammed’s brother died on Wednesday night, just after our first visit with the soup kitchen outreach. Mohammed cannot take part in the group session. We offer him tea and he goes away. We sit in silence. We finally learn his brother’s name: Abdi Rashid.
Nasfim Kapley, a migrant from Ethiopia breaks the silence. He blames the metro police for indiscriminate abuse.
“They come here. It’s very cold at nights and the only blanket you have, they come and take it to be burned or put in their car,” he says.
He adds that sometimes when the police bloodily assault the migrants, they do not take them to the police station.
Read more: Mail&Guardian Online