We won’t defuse xenophobia bomb until we fix Home Affairs – John Steenhuisen

DA leader says despicable acts of violence visited upon foreign nationals are symptoms of a deep rot in govt

We won’t defuse the xenophobia bomb until we fix Home Affairs

13 April 2022

Note to Editors: Please find attached soundbite by John Steenhuisen MP.

Today, on Tuesday 13 April 2022, I led an oversight visit to the Department of Home Affairs’ central Johannesburg office on the corner of Harrison and Plein Streets in downtown Johannesburg. I was joined on this oversight visit by the DA’s Gauteng leadership, our Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and several DA mayors, MPs and MPLs.

The reason we conducted this visit with such a large delegation is because of the serious threat that the crippling inefficiencies and relentless corruption in the Department of Home Affairs poses to the stability of our country and the prosperity of our people. It is hard to think of another government department that causes more hardship, suffering and anger on a daily basis than the Department of Home Affairs.

This particular Home Affairs office has a reputation as one the country’s worst, but it is by no means an outlier. The dismal failings on display here are replicated in Home Affairs offices throughout the country, and thousands of South African citizens - as well as foreigners trying to obtain or maintain their legal status - face a brick wall of bureaucratic bungling, system failures and downright extortion within these walls every day.

Hours before daybreak, these queues already snake down the pavement, and many of the men and women who have taken precious days off work and used their savings to get here, will go the entire day without seeing anyone and will have to do it all again the next day. Many of them will have no choice but to pay the extortion bribes demanded to get inside, and even then they’re not guaranteed to be helped. They will go home without the birth certificate or the ID document they came for, and as a result they will miss out on a crucial child support grant or the one chance they might have had to access a scholarship or get into university.

These are not ordeals that the political elite, or even the middle class, will ever really know, and so the situation is allowed to continue and to fester until something breaks. And that something is breaking in our country right now. The brutal killing of Elvis Nyathi, an innocent father of four, in Diepsloot last week shocked the nation. His only “crime” was that he was from Zimbabwe, yet a violent mob felt that this justified making him the target of their brutal anger.

Nyathi’s murder, along with all the other despicable acts of violence visited upon foreign nationals, are symptoms of a deep rot in government, and particularly in the Department of Home Affairs, whose failure to process and document immigrants has left them at the mercy of both government and vigilantes. Their plight gets more precarious by the day as the real frustrations of desperate communities are weaponised by unscrupulous politicians and opportunistic vigilante groups.

These politicians from a host of parties have wasted no time in whipping up anti-foreigner sentiment in a bid to win support. In the combustible landscape of our broken economy and our 46% unemployment rate, it is not hard to create a target for resentment and anger. Foreigners - and particularly undocumented foreigners - are now paying a very heavy price for the failures of this ANC government.

Yesterday the United Nations, through its Acting Resident Coordinator and head in South Africa, Ayodele Odusola, expressed its deep concern over these worrying developments, and specifically called out xenophobic vigilante group, Operation Dudula. It is clear to everyone that we cannot separate the messages of these people from the violence that inevitably follows, even when they carefully couch their statements in language about the law and due process. These anti-immigrant campaigns will lead to more bloodshed.

Let me be very clear: Foreigners in South Africa are not the problem. This ANC government is. And their complicity is two-fold. Firstly, they are directly responsible for the scarcity of resources and opportunities by failing to recognise that their policies and their redress plans simply do not work. Their refusal to implement reforms and pro-growth policies has caused - and continues to cause - untold misery and suffering. And secondly, by failing to provide a proper service to immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, they have left them extremely vulnerable. The rot inside this building is directly responsible for the danger many foreign-born men and women in South Africa find themselves in today.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The DA recently adopted a number of new policy position papers, one of which deals with immigration. And in this immigration policy document we put forward a host of solutions for fixing Home Affairs, streamlining immigration and making sure we can attract skilled immigrants to South Africa to help build and grow our economy.

Titled “Opportunity Beyond Borders”, this document seeks to replace the stigma of fear and mistrust around immigration with a narrative of opportunity: the economic and social potential of well-managed migration. It deals in detail with issues such as the challenges of undocumented immigrants; the legal duty we have towards asylum seekers and refugees; child statelessness; freedom of movement; business and cross-border trade; the issue of work and attracting talent; making our borders safe, efficient and welcoming; and, crucially, the elimination of xenophobia.

As far as fixing Home Affairs specifically is concerned, the DA has put a number of workable solutions on the table that include the opening of all refugee reception offices; the implementation of an advanced migration registry system to properly document all migrants that enter and leave the country; a points-based skilled migration system to attract aspiring skilled migrants; an e-verification system that would allow employers to check the work eligibility status of potential employees; and the blacklisting of officials who are found guilty of migration corruption and fraud from working for any State agency or government department, as well as laying criminal charges against them.

We cannot delay fixing the mess of Home Affairs any longer, because the consequences of this mess have now become deadly for many. And opportunistic politicians and vigilantes won’t stop exploiting the vulnerable for their own gain. The current situation with our porous border fences and inept border control makes it all the more urgent to implement these steps.

I urge President Ramaphosa and Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to come down here to this Home Affairs office and see what we have seen here this morning. Because once they have witnessed these scenes and heard, first-hand, the stories of desperation from the men and women in these queues, they cannot possibly remain disinterested any longer.

Issued by John Steenhuisen, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 13 April 2022