Families wait to be reunited

Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

About 300 children and women at a shelter on the West Rand anxiously await being reunited with their families and returning to their home countries after enduring weeks of separation.

"It is hard for us to stay here," said 11-year-old Burundian national Chanel Kaburungu. "We have heard that there is a war in my home country but we would rather die there than in South Africa."

Kaburungu and her four brothers and a sister have lived at the Riet Family Guidance Centre in Randfontein for two weeks.

Their mother, Emily, is among 16 foreign nationals who were arrested at the Glenanda temporary shelter, south of Johannesburg, last month.

"She has been in jail for a month now," says Kaburungu's 14-year-old sister Chantal. "We haven't heard anything about her. She didn't want the small cards from the government."

The immigrants were arrested on July 17 after allegedly throwing stones at the police who had rescued four security guards held in an office overnight.

Their uncle is one of 204 men who were returned to the Lindela repatriation centre last week after the Krugersdorp magistrate's court withdrew charges of obstructing the flow of traffic against them.

The group was arrested for squatting on the side of the R28 highway.

The Kaburungu children are being looked after by their mother's friend, Clarice Ndaya.

"They took the other children whose parents were arrested but we refused so that we could be together," said Chanel Kaburungu. "We didn't know where they were taking them. They should rather bring our mother back."

Congolese immigrant Cele Tshamala, 34, waits outside the centre every day to catch sight of his wife and children.

Tshamala was "in Krugersdorp buying something for my children" when the police arrested the men on July 28.

"My family and all my clothes are in the centre. The manager refuses to let me in," Tshamala said.

The shelter allows only women and children because they are the most vulnerable, said founder Ivan Kortje.

Kortje said the foreign nationals have until August 17 to vacate the premises.