South Africa’s main dedicated immigration detention centre is Lindela, located near Johannesburg. However, the country also uses police stations and prisons routinely to hold undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. There are some 237 prison and jail facilities in the country, and severe overcrowding is common.
As of 5 May, there 69 cases of confirmed infections amongst prison detainees, and 90 cases amongst prison staff. On 23 April, the Inspecting Judge of Correctional Services suggested that ‘’the number of people remanded to custody be restricted and, so far as possible and justifiable, alternatives to incarceration be considered.’’
Protests erupted in correctional centres across the country in recent weeks as detainees demand to be released from overcrowded prisons. The unrest has come on the heels of concerns that the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services staged misleading video-recorded visits to prisons, including an early April visit to the Johannesburg prison which holds some 9,000 inmates, that appeared to demonstrate that proper safety procedures were being implemented, including pre-visit tests, wearing of masks, and use of hydroalcoholic gel dispensers. However, on 10 April, journalists visited the prison without any sanitary control, leading to accusations that the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services was not forthcoming about actual operations at the prison. Staff members at the Johannesburg prison said that the sanitizer “is water and fake.’’ They also reported that no one was wearing masks or gloves, even when making physical contact with inmates to take their fingerprints.
On 25 March, the government announced that asylum seekers whose visas expire after 16 March would not be penalized or arrested. However, officials continued to deport undocumented migrants, justifying this as a measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
In order to be tested for Covid-19, individuals need to fill a form (Covid-19 specimen submission) from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. This form requires a South African identification or passport number, which makes it impossible for undocumented migrants to access the test.
- Z. Mvumvu, ‘’’Sun City’ accused of staging Covid-19 preparedness ‘act’ for Lamola’’, Sunday Times, 12 April 2020, https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/news/2020-04-12-sun-city-accused-of-staging-covid-19-preparedness-act-for-lamola/
- Department of Correctional Services, ‘’Covid-19’’, consulted on 5 May 2020, http://www.dcs.gov.za/?page_id=5070
- News 24 Video, ‘’Justice Minister Says 16 000 Inmates Screened For Covid-19 So Far’’, 8 April 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPXTv6k34Sc
- E. Cameron, ‘’Release of Prisoners: Letter to the Honourable Minister Ronald Lamola’’, Detention Justice Forum, 23 April 2020, https://www.groundup.org.za/media/uploads/documents/JICS_DJF%20COVID-19%20release%20of%20prisoners_23%20April%202020%20djf-1.pdf
- B. Mdakane, ‘’Prisoners Threaten Hunger Strike If Covid-19 Fears Are Not Addressed’’, City Press, 19 April 2020, https://city-press.news24.com/News/prisoners-threaten-hunger-strike-if-covid-19-fears-are-not-addressed-20200419
- National Institute for Communicable Diseases, ‘’ CRDM SARS-CoV-2 Submission Form’’, March 2020, https://j9z5g3w2.stackpathcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/CRDM_specimen_submission_form_v3_14_Feb_2020_Elect.pdf
- Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, ‘’ Covid-19 Lock-Down: Important Information For Refugees And Migrants In South Africa’’, Consulted on 5 May 2020, https://scalabrini.org.za/news/covid_info
- “Inmates Entering a Room Inside Sun City Prison in Johannesburg For Their Video-Hearings,” (News 24 Video, ‘’Justice Minister Says 16 000 Inmates Screened For Covid-19 So Far’’, 8 April 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPXTv6k34Sc)