Steenhuisen blames inefficient home affairs department for xenophobic violence

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According John to Steenhuisen, the benefits of an efficient system is that businesses would be able employ documented foreign nationals. Photo: Queenin Masuabi
According John to Steenhuisen, the benefits of an efficient system is that businesses would be able employ documented foreign nationals. Photo: Queenin Masuabi


DA leader John Steenhuisen believes it is the ANC-led government’s inability to run a competent home affairs department that has led to the continued xenophobic violence in the country.

This comes a week after Zimbabwean national, Elvis Nyathi, was killed by a mob in Diepsloot Extension 1. Violence had been brewing in the informal settlement after protests over ineffective policing. The demonstrations became violent when a mob started targeting foreign nationals living in the area.

READ: Xenophobia: Isolate vigilante groups

“I think President [Cyril Ramaphosa] is putting fault on the wrong foot and should be sorting out the home affairs department. Home affairs is not only unable to service South African citizens, but immigrants as well.

Steenhuisen said:

We are not going to solve the xenophobic crisis in South Africa unless we have an efficient and affective home affairs system. These systems are broken and are not assisting immigrants who are trying to get documentation. I think we are making the wrong people the scapegoats.

He added:

Even people who want to get the correct documentation are facing this monumental war of corruption, maladministration and inhumane treatment. That has made me the most sad, talking to people who say no one tells them what is happening and they get treated like animals and this is not good enough.

Steenhuisen led a delegation consisting of DA Gauteng leader Solly Msimanga, shadow home affairs minister Angel Khanyile to the department’s offices in the Johannesburg CBD on Wednesday to assess the level of service.

The offices at the corner of Harrison and Plein Streets are notoriously known for slow service as their system regularly goes offline. The queues usually snake outside of the building into the busy streets.

When Steenhuisen and his team arrived, surprisingly the queues were not as long as usual. Instead, there were two mobile service desks operating outside the building. The reinforcements were brought in to ensure that people are assisted swiftly.

Steenhuisen said he believed that was made because officials had been alerted to the DA’s site visit. Some Johannesburg residents who were queuing to fetch their documents that morning agreed with him.

Residents explained that they had to take time off work to collect their documents with no luck. Although they woke up very early to queue, they could not compete with the marshals who are paid R100 to hold a place for those who are unable to be there at the crack of dawn. Unfortunately, many people could not afford that amount to guarantee that they are assisted on time.

The leader of the opposition then spoke to the department’s Johannesburg district manager Mamokubung Moroke about the slow service in processing documents for foreign nationals.

Morake said:

Home Affairs Minister [Aaron Motsoaledi] has explained all the attempts to assist with the system and we are working on this. I agree that we can only be measured by what people are saying and I must say that the waiting times are longer than what is expected and that is dependent on the systems.

“There are homeless people who are taking advantage of this situation. They start queuing from 5am but our officials only get here at 7.30am. This is one of the offices that have been prioritised for ‘the war on queues’ and there are specific strategies that have been put in place and constant monitoring has to be done to make sure that we attend to these complaints as they come,” she explained.

The debate around businesses employing foreign nationals over South Africans came to the fore earlier this year when the EFF visited several restaurants to understand the extent of the problem. The party’s concern was that the displacement of South Africans was causing tensions in the townships while employers were not affected.

READ: Social media mobilises xenophobic sentiment

The Patriotic Alliance (PA) on the other hand, led raids on migrant-owned businesses a month ago. The PA then attempted to shut down illegal foreign-owned shops in mostly coloured areas such as Eldorado Park.

According to Steenhuisen, the benefits of an efficient system is that businesses would be able employ documented foreign nationals. He suggested that an e-system be established to assist business owners with this process.

“It is very difficult for business owners to determine who is an illegal immigrant and who is not without some form of electronic system. We suggested that an e-system, which would allow any employer to type in an identity document or a passport number to determine if the person is legally able to work in South Africa or not.

“We cannot expect the business community to do the work of the department of home affairs and without that database you will not be able to solve the problem. There is humanity involved here as well.

He said:

How do you send a widow back to a warzone and expect them to apply there? I do not think any politician in this country would put their family at the type of risk. Especially those areas that are war-torn and people are refugees, they should be able to apply from here. Surely if you want to incentivise legal immigration then there should be a system in place, you have to make it easy to comply with.

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