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Teen tells of horror arrest for ‘looking like a foreigner’

Angry father demands consequences

Koena Mashale Journalist
A 15-year- old girl was wrongly arrested by Hilbrow police in Johannesburg.
A 15-year- old girl was wrongly arrested by Hilbrow police in Johannesburg.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

“They wouldn't allow me to call my parents. They ignored me. I was scared and just wanted to go home.”

This is how a Joburg teenager recounted her ordeal at the hands of police who bundled her into the back of a van after she failed to produce an ID to prove she was not an illegal foreign national.

The 15-year-old girl, who may not be named as she is a minor, spent more than an hour locked up in police holding cells before her father arrived with her birth certificate to prove she was South African.

The incident has left her traumatised and her family angry at how she was treated by police whom she also accused of being aggressive towards her.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has launched an investigation into the circumstances around the teenager's detention.

The grade 9 pupil told Sowetan that she was cornered by officers a week ago while walking to the shops on Pretoria Street in Hillbrow.

 

She said a group of female officers circled her and demanded to search her without giving any explanation. She added that one of the officers touched her inappropriately during the search and when she pushed her away, she was accused of having an attitude.

“She asked me where my documents were or what my status in the country was. I didn’t understand why she was asking me all of this. I told her that I didn’t have the documents and that I only had a South African birth certificate,” the teenager recalled. 

She said the officer grabbed her by her jacket from the back and tried to drag her across the street where a police van was parked.

She said she was bundled into the back of the van where she found other people and they were driven to Hillbrow police station. On arrival at the station, she said they were separated according to gender to go into holding cells.

“While they were busy putting us in groups... there was an officer shouting at us, telling us, ‘this is not your home, SA is only for South African citizens, not you’. I tried telling them that I was born in SA and raised here but no one would listen to me,” she said.

“I asked them to call my parents but again they ignored me. They put us in the cells where we found other detainees.” 

The girl said she used one of her fellow detainees' cellphone to call her parents, whose phones went to voicemail. She eventually reached her sister, who alerted their father. 

“I was scared, tired, worried and anxious. I just wanted to go home. Every time I see a police van I wonder whether they will arrest me again.”

The teenager's father said on arrival at the police station no one could tell him why his daughter was locked up.

“There was an officer who came in and asked why I was making so much noise and I told him about my daughter. He took her name and went to the back of the charge office. He came back minutes later with her and I was just so angry because I could see the fear on her face,” said the father whose name is withheld to protect her minor child.

The father said he tried to open a case of wrongful arrest at Jeppe police station because he could not trust the officers at Hillbrow but that the case was yet to be registered. He said all he wants is for someone to be held responsible for the trauma caused to his child.

“I want someone to take responsibility for what my child went through. The manner in which they went about it was wrong. They didn't notify me about my child being detained. She had to make a call from a cell to a family member. That is wrong, they had to contact me and not put her directly in the cells. Now she is traumatised, she's scared of the police,” he said.

Zamantungwa Mbeki, the SAHRC’s Gauteng manager, said cases of people who are stopped and asked to produce documentation occur often and provisions in the law allow for it.

“However, the enforcement of this provision is usually based on preconceived ideas and the oversight procedure isn’t clear. The detention of a 15-year-old, though lawful, should not be something we should be hearing about,” she said.

“Children should be protected as much as possible and their detention should be a last resort. In this case, the allegation is that the child wasn’t allowed to contact parents and other traumatic incidents, which children should not be witnessing.”

Gauteng police spokesperson Lt-Col Mavela Masondo said he was unable to comment on the matter without being given a case number to check on their system.


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