Department of misery

2018-03-28 06:00

THE fallout from Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba awarding citizenship status to the controversial Gupta family is but a small taste of the misery that his department inflicts on thousands upon thousands of immigrants and residents every year.

And while there is a concerted effort to correct the perceived wrongs regarding this single family, the truth is that Home Affairs fails spectacularly in its constitutional duties on a consistent basis, negatively affecting tens of thousands of law-abiding people every year.

In an extraordinary few days, the nation saw Gigaba first deny that Atul and Ajay Gupta were granted South African citizenship, before Home Affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni clarified that both brothers had been naturalised as far back as 2002 and 2006, respectively. The controversial family’s citizenship was previously awarded under unspecified “exceptional circumstances”, although it was reported in 2017 that the family did not meet the prescribed requirements. The director-general reiterated earlier this month that the decision to grant early naturalisation to the Guptas was consistent with their exceptional circumstances as owners of businesses that employed many people.

Gigaba has now sought the advice of President Cyril Ramaphosa to revoke Ajay Gupta’s permanent residency. However, while he dithers on the Guptas, the lives of tens of thousands of people hang in the balance as a direct result of his department’s inefficient, uncaring and even illegal conduct.

Right now, as the minister fights for his political survival, thousands of stories of wrongfully denied immigrants are playing out across the country. Stories such as that of the Mulowayis, a family from the Democratic Republic of Congo who have had to renounce their citizenship to their home country as per Home Affairs’ instructions, only to have their applications for South African citizenship denied for no discernible reason. One of the Mulowayis’ children is stateless, and according to Home Affairs, ineligible to become a citizen under current laws. Thousands of children of immigrants find themselves legally non-existent and will remain so until Home Affairs can show the leadership and efficiency to apply the law consistently and live up to its constitutional mandate.

Until then, the Mulowayis parents, a doctor and a teacher, and thousands like them, will continue to be hampered in their efforts to contribute to our country. In a single court case, our firm is representing more than 400 applicants who simply lack the knowledge of local law as well as the necessary resources to challenge what is in essence unlawful findings by the department. Compare that to a family that has reportedly stolen billions of rands meant for elevating millions of South African citizens out of poverty. Many immigrants qualify for temporary and permanent residency and citizenship, but still have to wait for years for their applications to be approved, for no apparent reason other than the DHA’s inefficiency. Our firm works with many of the frustrated foreigners who have jumped through every legal hoop to gain their residency, and as a rule don’t submit applications unless they comply and have a fair expectation of being approved.

Yet, we still experience wildly inconsistent interpretations of the prevailing laws by Home Affairs officials. We urge the minister not to let his department undermine our nation’s prosperity. Home Affairs is compounding the misery of thousands of ordinary, hard-working immigrants who wish to contribute their skills and energy to the success and prosperity of our nation.

Your focus should be on ensuring that your department can provide the essential service of enabling skilled migrants to enjoy the constitutional protections and privileges set out by the architects of our democracy. You need to force your department to adhere to its own laws, and to work tirelessly to serve the broader developmental agenda as set out by our national leadership. You need to make sure the DHA lives up to its slogan: “We care”. Right now, you are failing, and the DHA certainly doesn’t create the impression that it cares.

• Stefanie de Saude-Darbandi is founder and director of De Saude Attorneys.

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