SA women jailed in Zimbabwe for almost a year finally set free

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Two South African women imprisoned for nearly a year after losing their travel documents were released yesterday after the high court ruled their detention illegal.

Zakiti Mbane and Mpo Mkonza, both 28, had been held in Chikurubi prison, Mbane since January and Mkonza since February.

In October, the women, both from Johannesburg, petitioned the high court for their release and return to SA. They also wanted a declaration that their arrest was in violation of the Zimbabwe constitution.

On Wednesday, Judge Owen Tagu ordered their release and said prison authorities had infringed their constitutional rights. He said they must be safely returned to SA.

The chief immigration officer, commissioner-general for prisons and correctional services, home affairs minister, attorney-general and the South African high commission were cited as respondents.

The women’s lawyer, Brian Hungwe, said there had been a “grave and unfortunate violation” of the women’s rights.

Mbane was studying mechanical engineering at Brooklyn City College in Johannesburg. In an affidavit, she said she left behind a 20-month-old baby and also pleaded mental illness.

She said she lost her passport soon after arriving in Zimbabwe and had gone to the Harare central police station for help. The police handed her over to immigration officials.

Mkonza’s affidavit said she had endured “trauma, mental anguish and psychological effects” due to the incarceration. In August she failed in an attempt to escape.

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