South African Accused Of Undiplomatic Moves

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"This is a case we are closely monitoring and we hope it will be a real test for the diplomatic immunity," a London-based lawyer who is not involved in the case, said.

[Global News: United Kingdom]

A South African diplomat in London has come under scrutiny for allegedly bringing young ladies from Africa to work as domestic employees at her official residence then firing and abandoning them.

In recent years, Uganda’s High Commissioner was embroiled in a similar and embarrassing case.

Now a Second Secretary at South Africa’s High Commission in London has come under similar accusations by fired domestics. A human rights group has derided the official for allegedly hiding behind the shield of diplomatic immunity.

Three former employees say that after being brought here to London, they were summarily dismissed and abandoned to their own means by Claudine Nikiwe Matldi Chinkanda, 38, the South African diplomat.

They are: Jearnette Mathomberi, a South African; Sylvia Kankiso, from Botswana; and Sarah Namusoke, a Ugandan. All claim that after working at Chinkanda’s residence, they were fired without pay.

The Republic of South Africa is a signatory to International Conventions against Slavery and human trafficking. Rights organization say such actions would be a violation of the International Conventions against trafficking and forced labor.

"The allegations are very worrying and if proven could constitute both an example of trafficking and forced labor,”said Paul Donohoe, who works with Anti-Slavery International. “Diplomatic immunity should not be used to shield people from prosecution if they have been found to be involved in trafficking people to the UK.”

Chinkanda acknowledged having employed the three. "They were my domestic workers; but they misbehaved and I fired them," she said, in a telephone interview. She asked that additional questions be submitted via e-mail message. She had not responded to the written questions by publication time.

"This is a case we are closely monitoring and we hope it will be a real test for the diplomatic immunity," a London-based lawyer who is not involved in the case, said.

"We want to have this as a test case, because diplomatic immunity is complicated. All the domestic workers with diplomats are not allowed to change their employment," said Jenny Moss, a community support worker with Kalayaan, an organization that backs the rights of workers.

One ex-domestic allegedly fired by Ms. Chinkanda says she reported the matter to the Southgate Police station but that police refused to register her complaint. She claims the South African diplomat told her that she could be imprisoned for reporting the matter since Chinkanda enjoys diplomatic immunity.

"She told me that, her CCTV cameras have links to London network and she can watch me anywhere in the City," claims the fearful ex-domestic worker. She has been assured by this reporter that such a set up does not seem possible.

"At times she used to allow me only an egg a day," claims the former domestic worker. Another former employee says she is owed nine months of wages.

Chinkanda was transferred from the Department of Home Affair in South Africa to come and work at the South Africa High Commission as a Vice-Consul in the consular Section, documents obtained by The Black Star News show. In November 2005, the High Commission wrote a supporting letter to U.K. authorities to obtain a visa for Sylvia Kankiso, from Botswana.

Chinkanda’s "duties as a vice-consul involves being on standby, working long hours and at night," the November 17, 2005 letter states. "Due to her duties Ms Chinkanda needs someone to stay at home with her two year old daughter."

A similar letter dated July 17, 2006, was submitted to the British High Commission in Kampala, Uganda, requesting for an entry visa for Sarah Namusoke. In part, it read: "I Nikiwe Chinkanda solemnly declare that Ms Sarah Namusoke will be staying with me for the duration of my stay in the UK. My term is four years, which is extendable, FOC has given me until 23.08.2010."

Evidently, Namusoke, who has been fired, didn’t survive the four years.

In 2007, a similar case erupted when Uganda’s High Commissioner to the U.K., Joan Rwabyomere, was accused by an ex-domestic worker, Evelyn Karamagi, who said she was fired without pay when she fell ill and needed dialysis. She claimed she had no resources or means of returning to Uganda.

Miwambo writes for The Black Star News from Europe
He can be contacted via

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