Conversations with leaders
Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize is repositioning the department to ensure service delivery
From birth to death, the Department of Home Affairs is intricately involved in the lives of all South Africans and Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize is determined to ensure that her department offers only the best services.
Equally important are the services her department extends to foreign nationals, which is why she wants to intensify efforts to deal with xenophobia.
Speaking to PSM, the Minister said that Home Affairs is probably one of the most important departments for the public because it provides documents and papers that are key to unlocking virtually all future bureaucratic processes. As such, the department is committed to visiting more antenatal wards across the rural parts of South Africa to educate mothers about the importance of obtaining birth certificates for their children.
“The first 30 days are crucial for a child’s right to be recognised as a South African citizen.”
“It’s an advantage in hospitals where Home Affairs offices are located, but a challenge in those where there are no offices.The first 30 days are crucial for a child’s right to be recognised as a South African citizen. It sets the tone for things like access to social security and schooling, especially in later years, and cleans up our national identity system the population register,” Minister Mkhize explained.
The most accurate and reliable way of capturing the data of bona fide South Africans is through early registration.
“It’s important to target vulnerable communities where access is still a challenge. After speaking to doctors and nurses in these areas, it’s clear that the campaign should start at community level. Our job is to educate young mothers on the importance of obtaining the necessary identity for their children and giving them a proper start in life,” she added.
A techno-savvy department
With technology rapidly changing the way in which the world operates, the department is keeping up with the times.
“I appreciate technology. It’s not only about efficiency, but also putting you in control and understanding what’s going on. Paper processes are risky when the stakes are high. Technology can solve many problems, like lessening the possibility of data interference and disappearing documents.
“However, there are huge budgetary implications, but as we modernise, it’ll provide better accessibility. The application for passports has proven this.The power of being able to apply online is a real game changer.”
The rollout of smart ID cards is one of the department’s significant projects.The Minister explained that the green ID books have a legacy of being easy to manipulate.
“With the smart ID cards we apply technology that’s
secure, making it harder to falsify information. We looked at various security concerns and consulted with cyber security experts.
“Banks that have come onboard to partner with us don’t have access to a person’s data in totality. Now, it’s connected back to our secure system,” she said.
During Heritage Month, which is celebrated in September, the department will have a firm focus on xenophobia.
“We need to have more discussions around xenophobia. We have to understand the plight of the refugee and start thinking about our cultural and constitutional human rights’ obligations when we encounter a vulnerable person in our community. Extend your hand, greet your neighbour and apply the values of Ubuntu,” the Minister said.
She explained that a person who commits a crime, whether they’re a South African citizen or foreign national, has to be dealt with firmly in accordance with the law.
“However, you simply cannot abuse a person’s rights because they are a foreign national. We must closely monitor extremism and manage migration in a legal and orderly fashion, without being reckless.
“Globally we’re all in agreement about immigration policies, but there’s the issue of refugees. In terms of our United Nations’ commitments as a member state, we must protect and provide all forms of assistance to vulnerable groups - people who have been displaced from their communities because of political reasons or poverty.
“We’ll be working closely with officials in the coming months to make sure we all have a common understanding. Without commitment from our own officials we will not achieve the desired impact,” she said.
Tackling corruption is also high on the department’s agenda.
“In this department, it’s important to show people the challenges that the world is facing because of high levels of corruption, be it multinational companies or ordinary individuals who bribe officials to attain documents in an illegal manner,” said the Minister.
“Hopefully, people will start internalising our values and improve the department’s image,” she added.
Minister Mkhize is adamant that the department will intensify efforts to fight corruption.“We’re working closely with the police. It’s often powerful syndicates who know what they are doing and who look to undermine development objectives at all costs,” she noted.
Preparing public servants for success
With 2017 being the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the Batho Pele principles, the department will continue to stress to its officials that the department’s success is in their hands.
“The impressions they create when dealing with the public and the professionalism they display, like giving people reliable information, goes a long way.
“The department has been repositioning since 2007, but we need to touch the minds and hearts of the people who provide the service.This is where the solution lies,” she explained.
With September being Public Service Month, the department is emphasising value systems and principles.
“The underlying problem with Home Affairs is not when systems are down or processes are incomplete. What really upsets the public is the way they are treated or informed about a problem.
“For several years we’ve been talking to public servants and reminding them of the critical values of Ubuntu − integrity, reliability and honesty − and respecting the public who come to us for a service.
Often public servants don’t realise the power they have in making the country work, she added.
“This is all in the hands of public servants. If we improve our efficiencies and if we continue to manage resources in a transparent, open and accountable way, it will enhance public confidence,” Minister Mkhize said.
Repositioning of the department
The Desmond Tutu Refugee Centre, formerly known as the known as the Marabastad Refugee Reception Centre,
has played an integral part in the repositioning of the department.
Improvements made at the centre include the redesign and refurbishment of public areas and office accommodation, signage, counters and lighting as well as the installation of a new security system and electrical fencing.
New systems and processes were also introduced and these include an automated booking system and electronic applications, improved registry and filing and continuous engagement with stakeholders.
The tightening of The Border Management Authority (BMA), working closely with the defence force and the police, has also contributed to the department’s repositioning, added the Minister.
Repositioning the department with the security cluster is also critical.
“In terms of our immigration policies, we’ve widened the scope of opportunities for people coming into the country. It’s not only about prohibiting people from entering, we have also created opportunities for international business people to conduct their business here by obtaining a 10-year business visa.
“It’s part of benchmarking our policies within advanced communities. In Canada, for example, they talk about integrating asylum-seekers within their society — which we don’t do yet. Part of repositioning is opening other avenues and taking migration serious for development,” she said.
Securing border posts
Minister Mkhize and Minister of Transport Joe Maswanganyi are planning to visit various border posts to “have real engagements and discussions with officials”.
“Our border posts are the cauldron of everything good and bad places where our immigration laws are sometimes undermined through corrupt practices. It’s important for us to make officials fully aware of the risks that the country is exposed to if they don’t allow people in and out of the country in a legal and orderly manner.
“People who choose to enter the country in an illegal manner might have illicit intentions, which could destroy the lives of many South Africans. We have to talk to our officials about the decisions they make and the consequences that these have at a community level,” she explained.
The Minister added that South Africa is an important player in the global village, thanks to its high-level commitments.
“There are several opportunities, but if we make too many mistakes, we might not see the benefits of building friendships with as many countries as possible. Home Affairs has an important role to play. We’ve placed our officials in strategic countries. Our systems and constitution are a big pull factor for relationships with other countries,” she said.
Home Affairs MinisterHlengiwe Mkhize.