Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963), which is the accepted standard for all member countries, persons who have been arrested outside their own country must have access to their consular representative. South Africans in this situation must immediately request the authorities to allow them to contact the South African Representative in that country.
Alternatively, somebody can contact the South African Representative (South African Embassies/Consulates/High Commissions are referred to as “missions” ) in that country or the Chief Directorate Consular Services of the Department in Pretoria on your behalf.
Consular Officials seek to ensure that South African citizens arrested abroad are treated humanely while incarcerated. In this regard issues such as torture, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment will be reported and taken up with the local authorities. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners is used as a guide.
What Consular Officers can do for South Africans detained/arrested abroad:
Establish contact with the detainee as soon as possible after verifying South African citizenship. (This service is rendered to ensure that South Africans who have been arrested, detained or imprisoned under foreign jurisdiction understand their rights and the services that can be provided by the South African Government. Depending on specific circumstances, contact can be in person, in writing, by telephone or through appropriate intermediaries);
Provide general information about the legal system of the country of arrest. Information may include details on legal aid (if available) and prosecution, a list of lawyers (no recommendations may be made for a specific lawyer) remand, bail and appeal procedures so that he/she understands his/her rights and the processes involved;
Maintain contact with the arrested South African citizens abroad with due observance of the laws and regulations of the arresting State.
Undertake rison visits. The frequency of prison visits depends on current policy, the location, culture and laws of the arresting State, the prevailing security situation in the country and/or the prison and subject to the Mission’s operational circumstances;
Contact family or friends, to a maximum of three, only if authorised to do so by the detainee/ prisoner in writing. The detainee/ prisoner can change the people he/she wishes to receive information from the Department but must do so in writing. The Consular Desk at Head Office will then inform the person whose name has been removed or added to the list accordingly. A person whose name has been removed will no longer be authorised to receive information via the Department.
Assistance with funds transfers: A maximum amount of R2 000, 00 per month per detainee/ prisoner may be deposited by family members/ friends. The funds must be deposited between the 1st and the 18th of the month in order for the Embassy/ High Commission/ Consulate General to have enough time to make the necessary arrangements for the payment to the detainee/ prisoner. Every effort is made to ensure prompt payment of funds received to detainees/prisoners.
Deposits received after the 18th of the month will be processed for payment in the month following the month in which the deposit was made. Family members/ friends are requested to assist the Department by making only one deposit per month per detainee. Should the detainee/prisoner receive money from more than one family member/ friend, arrangements should be made to consolidate the monies into one payment if possible. In all cases the amount of R2000.00 per month must not be exceeded.
If confirmation of funds transfers are received (at the mission from the Department) between the 1st and 18th the funds will be transferred to the prison account of the prisoner, if such a facility is available, by the end of the month. Confirmation of funds transfers received (at the mission from the Department) after the 18th of a month will only be transferred to the prison account of the prisoner, if such a facility is available, by the end of the following month. Should such a facility not be available at the prison for direct transfer of funds the conveyance of received funds by the mission to the prisoner will be determined by operational requirements and the mission’s prison visit schedule, i.e. funds will be conveyed to the prisoner during the next scheduled prison visit.
The Department assists (South African) families within the borders of the Republic of South Africa to forward money to their family member detained/ imprisoned abroad. This therefore does not include money transfers from another country.
Ensure that medical problems are brought to the attention of the prison authorities;
Family members are allowed to send prescription medication only to the detainee through the Department provided this is not contradictory to the rules of the detention facility in the arresting country. The medication together with the prescription must be hand delivered to the following address:
OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road
The following requirements/stipulations regarding medication must be adhered to:
(a) All medication must be accompanied by a certified copy of a prescription issued by a medical doctor and a certification that it is not available in the country of incarceration.
(b) No “over the counter medication” (e.g. head ache tablets) are permitted.
(c) Only tablets, powder and capsules are permitted.
(d) No liquids, ointments or aerosol cans, including asthma pump canisters, are permitted in accordance with IATA regulations.
The package is then weighed and the cashier at the Department must be paid according to the weight of the package. The person bringing the medication will be assisted by the responsible Consular Desk Official and it is therefore important for an appointment to be made prior to arriving at the Department.
Family members are allowed to mail letters to the detainees/prisoners through the Department. The letter must be put in an unsealed envelope with the name of detainee and the country where he/she is detained clearly written on the front and the return address of the sender on the back. That envelope should be put in a larger sealed envelope addressed to:
(Insert name of desk officer)
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation
Chief Directorate: Consular Services
Private Bag X152
Please note that only letters of a personal nature and South African postage stamps for letters written by the detainee/prisoner can be included in the envelope. No other items are permitted. The reason for leaving the inner envelope unsealed is so that the Department can exercise its right to inspect the contents prior to forwarding the letter to the detainee/prisoner. The intention is not to read the contents of the letter but to ensure that no unauthorised items are included. If any unauthorised items are found or if the inner envelope is sealed then the envelope will be returned to the sender. After inspection the envelope will be sealed and forwarded to the mission. It is advisable to include South African stamps in the envelope to enable the detainee to post letters to the family in South Africa through the mission.
Upon release and impending return to South Africa, family or friends (in South Africa) may deposit funds at the Department of Home Affairs to pay for the ticket. The South African Representative will arrange the purchase of the ticket once proof is received that the money was deposited.
Note: The Department and South African Representatives abroad make every effort to ensure that monies, letters and medication are forwarded without undue delay. Nonetheless it must be noted that, the operational priorities of the Department and Representatives abroad take precedence. Circumstances prevailing in a country may affect services at any time.
What Consular Officers CAN NOT do for South Africans detained/arrested abroad:
Institute or intervene in court proceedings or judicial processes;
Obtain or give legal advice;
Organise a release from prison, bail or parole;
Travel to dangerous areas or prisons for a prison visit;
Investigate a crime;
Negotiate better treatment in prison for SA Citizens than that provided for local nationals. In cases where the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners are not applied/ met, the mission will make representation to the relevant local authorities on behalf of the detainee/ prisoner;
Instruct next-of-kin or friends to transfer money;
Pay legal, medical or any other bills;
Obtain accommodation, work, visas or residence permits;
Undertake work done by travel agents, airlines, banks or car rental companies;
Formallyassist dual nationals in the country of their second nationality;
In the unfortunate event of death, pay for the repatriation, transport, burial or cremation of the mortal remains of a South African citizen;
What to do when a South African citizen is arrested/detained abroad:
Contact your nearest South African Representative or the Chief Directorate Consular Services of the Department in Pretoria.
Dual nationals arrested/detained in the country of their other nationality will not receive assistance from South African Consular Representatives. If a dual national is arrested/detained in another country, of which he/she is not a national, and he/she did not travel on a South African passport but on the passport of his/her second nationality, the dual national must contact the consular representative of the country on which passport he/she travelled.
Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963).
Note: No Prisoner Transfer Agreements exist between South Africa and any other country.