Addendum - Question No: 454 - Consular Assistance and a Petition from South African Prisoners in Mauritius to the South African High Commission in March 2008, for President Mbeki during his State Visit


Advice to South African Citizens in the Event a South African is Arrested or Jailed Abroad

Introduction / What Consular Officers can do for South Africans detained/arrested abroad / What Consular Officers cannot do for South Africans detained/arrested abroad / What to do when a South African citizen is arrested/detained abroad / Dual nationals / Legal Instrument / Location and contacts


Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963), which is the generally accepted standard for all 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 in that country or the Chief Directorate Consular Services of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pretoria on your behalf.

Consular Officers 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 prison visits. The frequency of prison visits depends on current policy, the location, culture and laws of the arresting State as well as the prevailing security situation in the country and/or the prison;

  • 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 and 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, forward mail or deposit funds via the Department.

  • Families will be able to deposit the money between the 1st and the 18th of every month. Any deposits that are received by department after the 18th of the month will either be dealt with during that month (in cases where the mission has not finalised the payments for that month), or stand over until the mission makes the payment in the next month. This will be dependent on the circumstances within the country of arrest. Families are limited the deposits to one deposit per detainee/ prisoner per month. No deposits for detainees will be accepted and processed if received from outside of the Republic. The Department assists (South African) families within the borders of the Republic 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 of Foreign Affairs 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:

The Department of Foreign Affairs
1234 Church Street
(Cnr. of Church - and Duncan Street)

The following requirements/stipulations regarding medication must be adhered to:

  • All medication must be accompanied by a certified copy of a prescription issued by a medical doctor.

  • No "over the counter medication" (e.g. head ache tablets) are permitted.

  • Only tablets, powder and capsules are permitted.

  • 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 Officer 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 of Foreign Affairs. 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 Foreign Affairs
    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 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 fees 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 of Foreign Affairs and South African Representatives abroad make every effort to ensure that monies, letters, study material and medication are forwarded without undue delay. However, the operational priorities of the Embassy/High Commission/Consulate take precedence. Local circumstances in the country also play a role.

What Consular Officers can not do for South Africans detained/arrested abroad:

  • Instigate or intervene in court proceedings or judicial processes;

  • Obtain or give legal advice;

  • Organise a release from prison or bail;

  • Travel to dangerous areas or prisons for a prison visit;

  • Investigate a crime;

  • 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;

  • Formally assist dual nationals in the country of their second nationality;

  • In the unfortunate event of death, pay for the preparation, 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 of Foreign Affairs in Pretoria.

Dual nationals

Dual nationals arrested/detained in the country of their other nationality will not receive assistance from South African Representatives. If dual nationals are arrested/detained in another country, of which they are not a national, and they did not travel on their South African passport but on the passport of their second nationality, the dual national must contact the consular representative of the country on whose passport they travelled.

Legal Instrument

  • Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963)

  • Note: No Prisoner Transfer Agreements exist between South Africa and any other country.

 Location and Contacts

Closest South African Representation

Chief Directorate Consular Services of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pretoria.

The Chief Directorate Consular Services of the Department of Foreign Affairs is situated at Tulbagh Park, 1234 Church Street, Pretoria.


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