Blacks 'still humiliated by pass laws'

Sibongile Mashaba

Sibongile Mashaba

Two South Africans spent time in jail after being arrested by police on suspicion of being foreigners when they could not produce their identity documents.

An ID is a document that proves a citizen's identity. It is issued to South African citizens or permanent residents who are 16 years and older.

Dan Mashaba, 43, of Welkom in Free State, spent two nights in jail at the Kroonstad police station because he could not produce his identity document when officers demanded it.

Zweli Mngadi, 23, of Hillbrow, Johannesburg, suffered the same humiliating treatment for the same reason.

Millions of South Africans fought for freedom, spurred on by precisely this issue: having to produce a dompas for the apartheid regime's police.

Mngadi said police insisted he was a Zimbabwean and tried to extort R300 from him. He says he had only R150 on him and landed in prison because he could not satisfy the police's greed.

Johannesburg police spokesman Superintendent Stanley Nevhuhulwi said he was not aware of the incident but urged Mngadi to open a case against the officers involved.

Mashaba is a dark-complexioned South African who was returning from a weekend visit to his family in Guwela Village, Giyani, Limpopo.

The taxi he was travelling in was stopped at a police roadblock. He claims he did not have his identity document with him and was duly arrested.

"It hurts to know that I spent two nights at a police station," Mashaba said. "The cells were cold and there was water on the floor. It was the first time I had been arrested.

"I don't even know why they arrested me. I was just released from custody now. I will definitely take legal action," .

Bennet Mathebula said Mashaba called him and told him about his arrest.

"I went to the police station on Monday and they told me that I must bring Dan's ID so that they could see proof that he is South African," Mathebula said.

Kroonstad police spokesman Maselela Langa said: "The man was brought in by the immigration office for safety reasons. The office also informed us that he did not have travel papers."

Before Mashaba was released late yesterday, Kroonstad immigration officer Dibuseng Sejane confirmed that he was being investigated.

"We have received the man's ID and are busy investigating. We have to verify if he is South African and we will release him if he is not an immigrant.

"If he is not South African and it is discovered that he is in the country illegally, he will be sent back to where he comes from."

The SA Human Rights Commission condemned the arrests.

"If the police continue to behave in this manner it might unfortunately suggest that South Africa is being taken back to the apartheid era when people always had to carry their dompas," SAHRC spokesman Vincent Moaga said.

"The undesirable consequence of this is that poor black people will be disproportionately affected, particularly foreign nationals. It is not a requirement for anybody to carry their ID all the time.

"Your right to freedom of movement is not premised on your carrying your ID book. Section 21 (1) provides that everyone has freedom of movement regardless of whether you have your ID book on you or not.

"People who experience such humiliating behaviour can lodge complaints with the Independent Complaints Directorate."

Introduced in South Africa in 1923, the dompas was designed to regulate the movement of black Africans in the urban areas.

They had to carry it with them at all times to prove they were authorised to live or move in white South Africa.