A lot’s riding on Gigaba
Minister must transform our immigration policy now at the mercy of bureaucratic intentions
IN A RECENT article, “How South Africa is becoming a closed society”, I decried the endemic inefficiency at the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). warned that bureaucratic barriers to the inflow of foreigners are threatening South Africa’s viability as a destination for foreign-direct investment and talent.
I accused Minster of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba of neglecting to pay sufficient attention to the role of foreigners in the economy, and called our foreign policy “inward-looking”. I stand firmly by each of these views and, for as long as the DHA continues to needlessly thwart immigration, I am obligated to defend them.
However, praise must be given where praise is due. Gigaba deserves constructive criticism for what he has accomplished, and for the trajectory he has plotted for himself. Without a contextualised view of his attributes and shortcomings, and an increase in civil society’s support of him, he cannot succeed in revolutionising South Africa’s immigration policy.
Gigaba is a responsive minister. He is responsive to his party as he is responsive to cabinet policy, to the extent of defending the president against all odds. But, he is also judged by his ability to transform the DHA into an efficient bureaucratic machine intelligently embracing the contributions of foreigners to South Africa’s national interests. There are signs that Gigaba is bridging the DHA’s service deficit, but not speedily enough.
The minister is well-seasoned, and has the courage of his convictions. He was the longest-serving ANC Youth League (ANCYL) president, but he did not hesitate in chastising its leadership – labelling them anarchists – when they called for widespread nationalisation of the state’s resources in 2011.
Nor did he waver in his condemnation of the homophobic and anti-Semitic American pastor Steven Anderson’s hate speech towards the LGBTI community, exercising his right to deny him a visa despite the fact that homosexuality is shunned within the norms of traditional Zulu culture.
While the ANC has become a party of dictatorship, Gigaba has created his own brand of intellectual leadership. His political prowess was recognised in 2012 when he was first put forward for one of the top six positions in government. In the wake of the ANC’s disappointing election results this year, some have hailed him as one of several future leaders who have the potential to rejuvenate the party.
Gigaba has received praise for his implementation of immigration amnesties for Zimbabwean and Lesotho nationals living in South Africa. Although laudable, Gigaba’s implementation of such limited and origin-specific amnesties reflects a political ulterior motive rather than a cogent use of the amnesty process.
Gigaba must introduce an amnesty for all foreigners living in South Africa in contravention of the Immigration Act because if national security needs and use of state resources are of paramount importance to immigration policy, then there exists no other alternative.
Gigaba’s creation of the Mkhaya Migrants Awards, introduced after the wave of xenophobic violence in South Africa in April 2015, is also of significance. He must continue to act with a commitment to lasting solutions, especially the eradication of xenophobia both within and outside the ranks of the DHA.
June 2016 saw Gigaba’s welcomed publication of a green paper on international migration, on which he has invited public comment. Gigaba was appointed Home Affairs minister on May 26, 2014, the very day the last amendments to the Immigration Act came into effect. He has had two years to measure the extent of failure of the current immigration regime, a period of haemorrhage too protracted to be vindicated by a green paper. He could have easily observed the failure and acted more swiftly to stem the tide.
In Minster Buthelezi’s era, section 7 of the Immigration Act paid full heed to Section 195(1)(e) of our constitution, by embracing the full inclusion of the public in regulation-making. When the Immigration Act was amended on July 1, 2005, section 7 was purposefully repealed to exclude civil society from the process.
The de-democratisation of immigration regulation-making in this way vested the minister with autocratic powers of lawmaking without public or parliamentary oversight. Gigaba must now grab a historic opportunity to amend the act to bring section 7 back into the hands of the people, an ethos his communist party credentials naturally propagate. Section 195(1)(e) of our constitution behoves him to do so.
The minster must become more vigilant as to what the bureaucracy within DHA is doing. The series of “surprise visits” to various Home Affairs offices are a step in the right direction, but, of course, they have nothing whatsoever to do with service provision for foreigners.
Foreigners are not served at the DHA offices. The minister has created a buffer between himself and foreigners since every type of application contemplated by legislation must be submitted through VFS, a private company, not at DHA offices.
The minister has obviously never undertaken an audit of the DHA’s adjudication operations and the extent and cost of the litigation waged against him and the DHA. If he did, he would quickly learn that foreigners are punished every day by depleted decision-making and delays. He may also wish to learn that xenophobia is also measured by the attitudes and behaviour of DHA officials.
We need to have faith in Gigaba because his vision takes him and us all into the future. But in doing so, he must recognise South Africa’s decreasing competitiveness in global terms, and must act quickly to reconnect this country to the international marketplace of ideas, entrepreneurship, FDI flows and skills.
South Africa’s foreign consular offices must be overhauled to act as showcases for the country, not as seats of antagonism and xenophobia. Some of our consulates abroad, including Moscow, Berlin and The Hague, have devastated the very concept of South Africa as a country committed to the rule of law and “open for business”.
Gigaba has the experience, the intellect and the passion to be the change agent to lead South Africa into the 22nd century of immigration policymaking. Time will tell whether he will fulfil these burdensome obligations with the finesse and style which characterises him.
He has created his own brand of intellectual leadership
ABLE: Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, is well-seasoned and courageous, says the writer.