Home affairs: Is it ‘routine admin’? Or should it be elevated to a security level?

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Director-general Mkuseli Apleni.
Director-general Mkuseli Apleni.

Should home affairs be elevated to a strategic and crucial national security, service delivery and economic development unit?

A push to have the department form part of the security cluster was moved up a notch when authorities briefed Parliament this week.

According to the department’s director-general, Mkuseli Apleni, parliamentarians were told on Tuesday that the department had to be repositioned to form part of the security cluster.

Apleni told City Press on the sidelines of a media briefing held at the department’s office in Pretoria on Wednesday that parliamentarians were also informed that additional funding would be required for his department to ensure that borders were secure.

This came after a white paper on international migration was approved by Cabinet in March.

His statements came after City Press reported that an ANC document on peace and stability, which will form the basis for talks at the party’s upcoming policy conference in June, argued that the role of the department was “widely misunderstood” to be that of an administrative department that delivers routine services of low value.

It was reported at the time that the document proposed that home affairs be elevated to a strategic and crucial national security, service delivery and economic development unit.

In addition, the newspaper reported that the department had been severely underfunded over the past 23 years leading to ongoing tensions between locals and foreign nationals.

“That’s why we are arguing in that white paper to re-position Home Affairs to be part of the security cluster.

"Once we’ve done that, fund it properly. It must have an Act ... so that officers ... must know that when they are issuing permits they are not just issuing permits in the sense of issuing permits, but it’s for the security of the country,” Apleni said.

He said this would deter security threats like those experienced in Manchester in the UK recently, when 23 people were killed as a suicide bomber detonated a nail bomb towards the end of an Ariana Grande concert.

Having the department as part of security cluster would also ensure that there were records of people living in South Africa legally and illegally, he said.

Apleni said this would also save the country a lot of money that was now spent on providing services to those who were in the country illegally and could also alleviate service delivery protests.

The country would continue to welcome those seeking asylum for political reasons.

Apleni denied that his department was deporting asylum seekers.

He said only Zimbabweans who were not part of the 275 000 who received special dispensation permits were deported. The 275 000 Zimbabweans formed part of the quota issued in December 2010.

Apleni said there was also a similar moratorium in place relating to cases of Lesotho nationals who were in the country.

The moratorium entailed that the Lesotho nationals would not be deported until the department finalised applications for special dispensation permits.

“Remember when we started in 2010 with Zimbabweans it was 275 000. Now, we are talking about people after that, who crossed into our country illegally.

"We are a sovereign state. We cannot allow that. We are deporting Zimbabweans who came to our country illegally.”

His department sought through the white paper to have a special visa for the Southern African Development Community to enable most migrants to work in the country.

Only those who offered critical skills were currently allowed work in South Africa.

He said some migrants came to the country under the pretence of being asylum seekers while, in fact, they were here for economic reasons.

“About 29 000 Zimbabweans a day are processed during the festive season. They go home. What it means is they are here for economic reasons.

"Our argument in the white paper says open a special visa for SADC that will allow for people with lower skills, and then have a quota system.” Apleni said.

His department and unions will go for conciliation on Tuesday (June 6) in an attempt to find a solution to a labour dispute threatening to destabilise services.

Unions were not happy about the new working hours, which included staff working on Saturdays.

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