Ultimate magazine theme for WordPress.

Employer set us up: deportees

‘Mantoetse Maama

MASERU — They left Lesotho with hope. They came back broke.
Even as they sneaked into South Africa through illegal entry points, these Basotho men knew they were taking a gamble.
They just did not believe that their luck would run out as soon as it did.
So when Sello Thejane, 28, saw policemen entering the gates to the construction site where he had been working for just over two months he knew it was game over.
Since being hired by Group 5 Construction Company in Rustenburg,  north-western South Africa, he had lived in fear that one day they would catch him unawares.
On that Friday afternoon they finally did.
He recalls being violently shoved into a police van by “mean” officers.
He spent the next two months in a “filthy camp” where they sometimes fought for food.
Thejane was one of the 150 illegal Basotho immigrants who were deported from South Africa last week.
They were dumped at the Maseru Bridge border post broke, hungry and angry.
Some had lost the little money and few things they had bought with their miserly wages.
Most were arrested a few hours before they were due to be paid their wages.
They were bitter and angry with the police for arresting them and with their employers for allegedly setting them up on pay day.
They believed that their employers called the police to arrest them so that they could not get their wages.
Some claimed to have been tortured during the arrest while others said they were denied food while in police custody.
“We were arrested on Friday at around 12 noon when we were supposed to get our money,” Thejane said.
“We were hired by a man who promised to pay us fortnightly but when it was time for him to pay us he said he would pay us after a month.
“My hopes were high as I had been away from my family for more than three months.
“I had already planned my budget for that month.
“As we were working we heard this awkward noise: ‘Pick-up! Pick-up! Pick-up!’ It was a way of alerting us that the police were there to arrest us.”
Thejane said others ran way but it was too late for him.
“I had to face them,” he said.
He thought he would not be arrested because he had his passport on him.
“We were asked to produce our identity documents. I showed them my passport because I assumed I was off the hook,” he said.
“A police officer told me that I had no right to work there because I was a foreigner.
“He pulled me to a waiting pick-up van.”
Thejane said the police then took them to a holding camp for illegal immigrants where they waited for weeks until they were enough to fill a bus.
The next weeks were miserable, said Thejane, who was lucky to get a part-time job at a mall under construction in Maseru just days after he returned to the country.
“We were kept in a dark house. Sometimes they would light it and sometimes they would not,” he said.
There ate bread and milk, papa and meat but they “could not tell whether it was beef or mutton because it had a foul taste like it was rotten”.
They were bad days when they would go without food at the holding camp.
At one time they went for four days on the trot without food, according to Thejane.
“We were given food twice a day and sometimes we would go for three or four days without food,” he said.
The deportees told an almost similar story of being arrested a few hours or days before their wages were paid.
The police nabbed Phakiso Mahao, 30, just as he was about to knock off.
For weeks he had avoided arrest by bribing the police almost every day, he said.
He said he could have paid his way to freedom but on that day he had no cent on him. 
“That was the worst day in my life because I did not have even a single cent to bribe the police as we normally did,” recalled Mahao who, unlike Thejane, has not been lucky enough to find a job quickly.
“We were arrested before we could even get our wages.
“I think our employers had a deal with the police.”
“We were given bread and tea or soup,” he added.
“We were given food through a hole and sometimes others would take more than two plates and that led to a shortage.”
When that happened there would be furious fist fights that would end with some inmates injured and the police descending heavily on the camp.
There were other inmates from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique in the camp.
While Mahao’s daily wages were R100 in most cases he went home with only R50 because he spent the other half bribing the police.
“We would give them R50 every time we were arrested,” he said.
“After paying them they would tell us to go back to our countries because they would continue to arrest us if they found us the next day.”
Tšehla Seoehla, 32, said he was on the streets selling some clothes and jewellery when he was arrested.
“I saw some people running away and then the police came after them firing teargas,” said Seoehla.
“I left my things at that spot when they arrested me.
“I never got a chance to collect them because they pushed me into their car.”
Life in the camp was unbearable, he said.
“We were locked in a big dark house,” Seoehla said.
“It had a very bad smell because some people did not bath.
“Those who did not wash reasoned that it was a waste of time because we did not have soap and cosmetics.
“We did not even have a chance to wash our clothes or change because we had left them where we were staying before our arrest.
“Sometimes we would fight asking them to take us back to our countries but they just ignored us.”
Seoehla said anxiety also took its toll on them while in custody.
“Some were bitter that they were arrested and if you tried to ask something from them they would fight you,” Seoehla said.
Limpho Lichaba, 23, said the police hit him with a gun butt on the chest when they arrested him.
During this interview he complained of chest pains.
“I was trying to negotiate with them that I would give them their money (bribe) at the end of the month,” he said.
“But instead of listening to my story (a police officer) just hit me hard on the chest.
“I was coughing out blood and I nearly died in that compound.”
Seoehla said he suspected it was their employer who had tipped off the police that they were illegal migrant workers.
The employer had not paid them for days, giving them “unsatisfactory explanations”.
“The other day we told him we would not work until he had given us our money,” Seoehla said.
“He said we could go wherever we wanted and we would not get any payment because we had no right to work there.
“After a few minutes the police came to arrest us.
“They even told us that they were informed that we were Basotho from Lesotho.”

Comments are closed.