Growing number of South Africans arrested abroad

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) has raised concerns about the growing number of South Africans detained abroad.

In a statement issued on Wednesday (12 December), the department said that more than 800 South Africans are in prisons across the world for visa-related violations, drug-related charges, as well as various other offences.

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Lindiwe Sisulu, said that around 21% of these South Africans are in South America detained for drug-related charges.

She added that over 98 South Africans were detained in China for visa-related violations during the past six months.

“At this stage 23 of them remain in detention in China while police investigations are continuing,” she said.

“Earlier this year, more than 100 young South Africans who travelled to teach English in China, where detained, cautioned or questioned regarding visa violations.”


Sisulu highlighted a recent case in which a young South African woman entered China on a short-stay study visa. She was arrested on 16 November 2018 on suspicion of working illegally in China by teaching English.

“The investigation by the Chinese Public Security Bureau into her case is still continuing,” Sisulu said.

“Chinese regulations in force in the Jiangsu Province determine that no consular visits or telephone calls are allowed to detainees while the matter is still under investigation.

“The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) is in regular contact with her mother and will keep the family informed of any developments. Unfortunately, consular assistance does not mean that Dirco can get South African citizens out of detention and neither can the Department intervene in the judicial process in China.”

Sisulu called on South Africans to register with DIRCO or with the South African diplomatic missions abroad and ensure that they have the right travelling documents.

“It is very disconcerting that many South Africans are being arrested or detained abroad. We call on South Africans to make sure that they have the right traveling documents and correct visas where applicable. They should also know the location and contact details of the South African embassies, high commissions and consulates in the countries they are visiting,” Sisulu said.

The minister added that she has tasked the department’s director-general to ensure that all South Africans who are arrested across the world receive consular assistance and that Dirco’s Consular Services Division, as well as South Africa’s diplomatic missions abroad make every effort to keep in touch with affected South Africans and their families.

“Young people who seek to teach in China must make sure that they consult the Chinese Embassy and verify the agents who are arranging their travel. The responsibility to ensure they have the correct visa for working abroad still rests with the individual,” she said.

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Growing number of South Africans arrested abroad