By Sara Gon*
In the Sunday Times on 6 September 2015, Deputy Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Obed Bapela stated that the ANC’s Sub-committee on International Affairs, has drafted a policy to outlaw dual citizenship and thus the possession of more than 1 passport.
Bapela in his capacity as Head of the ANC sub-committee specifically said that the policy was intended to prevent South African Jews from fighting in the Israeli army.The issue is currently being discussed by the ANC’s branches.
The SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the Zionist Federation responded with outrage.
One of Bapela’s next media forays was with Chris Barron who interviewed Bapela for his “So Many Questions” column which was to appear in The Sunday Times on 13 September 2015.
Barron asked Bapela whether there was support in the ANC for his proposal. “There are different opinions, obviously, that are emerging. There will be those who are for, and those who say: “Hey, we need to be careful.””
The rest of the interview revealed ignorance, confusion and an embarrassing failure to do the most rudimentary research on the alleged abuses of dual citizenship. Bapela has no idea how many people have committed abuses. He has failed to elucidate on what the abuses actually are, how many people have committed them and how they harm South Africa.
On Thursday 10 September 2015, Malusi Gigaba, Minister of Home Affairs, said that while some members of the ruling party might have strong views on dual citizenship, the government is not currently considering reviewing its Citizenship Act at this time.
He said that a blanket ban on dual citizenship is not on the cards and that to change the law to deal with a single country would be “a mistake of historic proportions”.
Gigaba then said there would never be a time when they would take an arbitrary decision on these issues. “We would always be guided by the Constitution and what is [in] the best interest of our country and our people.
There is no current review of the Citizenship Act, no plans to review the Citizenship Act in so far as the home affairs department is concerned.” So the minister has left the government’s options open, even though he tried to sound like he was refuting Bapela emphatically.
“South Africans, particularly members of the ANC, have strong views about the struggle of the Palestinian people and others have raised the question [of visa exemption]. We are of the view that issues of visa exemptions are matters of bilateral relations between countries, they are not matters of legislation.
If the ANC and Cabinet adopted the view that we need to re-look at visa exemptions, we would have to do that, but there is no such decision at the moment. There is not even a discussion towards that effect,” said Gigaba.
So why did the Minister of Home Affairs even raise this unrelated issue?
SA deputy minister Bapela insists dual citizenship is on the ANC agenda. This despite Home Affairs insisting no plans to end it. Confusing— Sure Kamhunga (@SureKamhunga) September 15, 2015
He went onto say that the only thing that was clear about the Citizenship Act concerns was that they arose from genuine support for the Palestinian cause. “But that does not require that we should amend the legislation just to address a particular people.
Because I cannot see how you would take such a view in the legislation without it having implications for everybody else. It certainly would affect many South Africans, who I believe would approach the courts to seek recourse. “It is a process that would create enormous problems for us.”
So Gigaba, as Bapela before him, raised the ANC’s unqualified support for the Palestinians without it being necessary or relevant to do so. The general public response to Gigaba was that he had shut down the storm Bapela had created. Is this in fact so? On Friday 11 September 2015 Bapela gave an interview to Tim Modise for BizNews. He said inter alia:
• “Unfortunately, the Jewish (sic) took it personally and they see it as an insult. I don’t think this topic should be avoided. It must be engaged. It must be discussed regardless of feelings and obviously, a sensitivity that goes with it. We’ll listen to them”;
• “Against Palestinians, yes. Now the Jews are angry. They’re asking why I equate the Israeli state with an apartheid state. I think there’s a matter of debate and discussion on that one. We can engage and I think we are – strongly – of the view that indeed, they are.
Why can’t they then put pressure on the Israeli state to implement the resolution of the United Nations? An independent Palestine, coexisting alongside the state of Israel, sharing the common capital (Jerusalem). Then we can deal with the issues of security so that no one attacks each other in that particular environment.
If they can really move this one, we’ll definitely be on the side of that move. If Israel is part of the players, we’ll congratulate them and we’ll commend them on that particular issue as well”.
The rest of the interview was also a mix of contradictory gobbledy gook about imperialism and economic theory. Still further on 15 September 2015 BDLive reported that Bapela had stuck to his guns over a review of dual citizenship, saying no organised force, particularly the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), would intimidate the African National Congress (ANC) into not discussing the issue.
Bapela made these comments on Monday 14 September (ironically the first day of the Jewish new year) at the first day of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) “International Solidarity Conference” in Johannesburg. “To discuss does not mean it is policy”.
Bapela is well known for his anti-Israel position and despite his denials, the often anti-Semitic tone of his comments. And as he and Gigaba have said, the issue was a reflection of the ANC support for the Palestinians and its condemnation of Israel as an “apartheid” state.
Aside from being opposed by dual passport holders, the idea was framed in a way that was guaranteed to offend the majority of the Jewish community. Neither Bapela nor anyone else in government has sounded in anyway apologetic or contrite.
So, on who's behalf was Obed Bapela speaking? #Dualcitizenship— Aubrey Masango (@702Aubrey) September 10, 2015
Was Bapela acting as lightning rod for the ANC to gauge responses to the idea, either specifically as it may affect Jews or generally? If it was meant to gauge a wider response, why use the Jews and Israel as so specific an example?
Despite Gigaba’s fairly strong refutation, Bapela has not been reined in at all. Given President Zuma’s gratuitous attacks on the West recently, the ANC is not yet done with the issue and therefore neither is the government, generally or specifically.
*Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty.
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