South African artist fights not to be expelled from Brazil after serving time


From a cell in the women’s penitentiary to the stages of renowned theaters in São Paulo, the South African Nduduzo Siba has traced an unusual trajectory in Brazil. Now, the artist is fighting so that this path is not interrupted by an expulsion decree issued by the Ministry of Justice.

Nduduzo, 33, was arrested shortly after arriving in the country in 2013, trying to board at Guarulhos airport with 12 kg of cocaine in perfume bottles. She, who claims to have received an order from a friend and did not know about the illegal content, was eventually convicted of international drug trafficking.

Without speaking Portuguese or knowing almost anything about Brazil, she was taken to the Women’s Penitentiary of the Capital, in the northern zone. It was four years serving time, a hard experience, but also one of discoveries.

Thanks to a project conducted by a professor from USP with the inmates, Nduduzo released his hoarse and powerful voice and gave way to the musicality he developed since childhood, typical of his ethnic group, the Zulu.

After she was released, she used her artistic talent to overcome the difficulties that many immigrants ex-prisoners face, as they have no family in Brazil or anywhere to go.

The South African managed to start again and built a career as a singer, actress and dancer, having in her curriculum performances at the Ibirapuera Auditorium, at Sesc units, at the Mário de Andrade Library, at Teatro Oficina, at Bourbon Street and at Instituto Tomie Ohtake.

He also became a speaker and activist for human rights movements, taught Zulu dance classes at festivals and was part of the cast of the movie “The Princess of the Yakuza”, which has just opened in theaters.

In 2017, an expulsion order was issued against her by the Ministry of Justice, as is customary in the case of foreigners who commit crimes in the country. The following year, after a campaign and a lawsuit, a federal judge suspended the decree, accepting the arguments that she is resocialized, with emotional and professional ties on Brazilian soil and that the crime she committed does not justify her expulsion.

On the 25th of August, however, the expulsion decree was again valid. The Federal Regional Court of the 3rd Region (TRF-3) reformed the sentence of the first degree, accepting the Union’s appeal. based on criteria of security and national interest.

Foreigners who commit a common felony in the country can be expelled, unless they have Brazilian children or a spouse who lives in Brazil. But the Migration Law also provides for the suspension of the measure at the discretion of the competent authority and states that “the seriousness [do crime] and the possibilities of re-socialization in the national territory”.

The Federal Public Defender’s Office (DPU) filed an appeal for the case to go to the STJ (Superior Court of Justice). “The law establishes when expulsion is appropriate, but it does not say that every time the situation is like that, the person must be expelled. There is a margin, and we are asking that this margin be recognized, because expulsion is a disproportionate measure in her case “, says federal public defender Heloísa Pigatto.

According to her, the TRF-3 followed a more conservative and restricted line of legislation, annulling the decision of the lower court judge, which had had “a broader interpretation”.

“The sentence [anterior] considered that she is inserted in Brazilian society, that she had already obtained a pardon, that it is a non-violent crime.” In 2018, the DPU had already asked for the repeal of the decree against Nduduzo, but the Ministry of Justice denied it.

Questioned by sheet, the folder sent a note stating that the defense’s request for reconsideration was rejected “because it is not covered by the legal hypotheses applicable to the matter, and relevant new facts capable of changing the decision rendered have not been presented”. He also stated that the decision of the second instance confirms that there were no irregularities in the expulsion decree.

The ministry did not respond if it takes into account the possibility of resocializing the former inmate in Brazil when deciding on the decrees.

The Nduduzo Tem Voz campaign, created in 2018 to ask for the artist’s permanence, was activated again and won the support of congressmen such as state deputies Erica Malunguinho and Isa Penna (both from PSOL-SP) and São Paulo councilors Eduardo Suplicy (PT ) and Erika Hilton (PSOL), as well as entities such as the Unified Black Movement (MNU), the Pastoral Carcerária Nacional and the Center for Human Rights and Immigrant Citizenship (CDHIC).

Meanwhile, Nduduzo says he is in “limbo”, without being able to regularize his documentation or know what his fate will be.

“I’m trying to organize myself, but I don’t know what will happen. I have my life here, people already know my history, it’s been eight years in Brazil. It’s not something you get up tomorrow and forget,” he says. “I will have to start over from scratch [se for expulsa], go through it all over again. I feel this punishment never ends.”

In the open letter she wrote asking to stay, she says that she is not just a prisoner and that music plays a key role. “Art is what I discovered in prison. My voice soothed people. I came to understand that tomorrow would be bigger, that tomorrow would be better.”

The Voz Própria project ran from 2014 to 2017 at the Capital Women’s Penitentiary and was an initiative of singer and psychoanalyst Carmina Juarez, a professor at the School of Dramatic Art at USP.

She says that Nduduzo was a central figure for the group. “She has a totally unique talent, a musical power that I’ve rarely seen. In addition, she has a very great sociopolitical intelligence.”

The teacher realized that South African women have a special relationship with music, so much so that their adherence to the project was high. “Music is intrinsic to Zulu culture. It’s something that is part of life, and their musicality is extremely developed, refined,” he says. “They conducted the work, brought songs with polyphony, dividing the voices, with choreography. They taught all the women to sing in Zulu: Russian, Bolivian, American, Brazilian.”

During the project period, there were between 250 and 450 foreign women in this prison, of dozens of nationalities — most of them convicted of carrying drugs in their luggage.

It was Carmina Juarez that Nduduzo called when she was released. Together with other members of Voz Própria, they created an extension of the project for the members who had already been released — the name was Mulheres Livres.

For the teacher, it is admirable that Nduduzo has created an artistic career in such unfavorable circumstances. Many immigrants in this situation end up returning to crime. “After how much she struggled to be recognized, after so many shows, after so much work, she was considered violent? It’s cruel,” she says.

Karina Quintanilha, a researcher at Unicamp, a member of the Fronteiras Cruzadas Forum and one of the organizers of the campaign in favor of the South African, sees the episode as emblematic.

“It is evident that in the second instance there was no analysis of the concrete case. The court reproduced terms from the dictatorship and the colonial period, such as ‘dangerous’ and ‘undesirable’. and the debate on the Migration Law itself.”


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