The Department of Home Affairs briefed the Members on the administrative and safety features of its response to the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). The Department’s COVID-19 budget of about R22 million was drawn from the savings made from the accommodation and travelling budget for April 2020. If the budget was found insufficient, or should lockdown continue, the same principle would apply for May 2020 and the subsequent months – for as long as this may be required. The total expenditure to date was R8.3 Million. Donations and pledges to the value of R400 000 were received and would be used to purchase masks, disinfection chest pads, and non-contact thermometers.
Due to the backlog caused by the national lockdown, the Department was anticipating a high demand of birth certificates in order to take advantage of the social relief efforts announced by the President. To address this, the Department resolved to provide services for eight hours instead of the normal four. Floor managers would ensure that social distancing was adhered to as per regulations and all staff members would wear personal protective equipment at all times.
Since the declaration of national state of disaster, 35 land ports and two maritime ports had been closed. The Department was responsible for authorised human movement into or out of the country as well as the designation or withdrawal of ports of entry. This would be executed with the help of relevant organs of state. There were no legal provisions within the Constitution and South African laws for refugee camps within the country and so the Department was not empowered to provide accommodation, shelter and sustenance to refugees or any person (national or non-national) in South Africa.
Members welcomed the good work the Department was doing. They asked whether it was ready and equipped to check and enforce the safety measures in place for the staff at its offices. Are there checks and balances for procurement during this abnormal time where supplies may need to be procured at short notice?
Members asked whether the Department’s mobile units were ready for use. The Committee was told that the mobile units should be available in February 2020. If the units were ready they could be sent to rural areas, thereby not requiring citizens in those areas to travel and increase the threat of spreading the virus.
Members commended the steps taken by the Department in planning to deal with a backlog of birth registrations due to the national lockdown. They asked whether mothers with new-born babies would be prioritised in queues as they would probably need to take their babies with them to registration. Is it possible to team up with the South African Social Security Agency so that those who qualify for the Child Support Grant can apply for a birth certificate and the grant concurrently?
Concerning the refugees in Cape Town, Members agreed that ideally, they should be reintegrated into South African society. However, if they refused they should be deported to their home countries. One Member voiced strong opposition to deporting refugees as that would be contrary to the international law principle of ‘non-refoulement’ which protected refugee rights.
Regarding the ports of entry, is there an improvement in the working relations between the Department and border offices to ensure seamless partnership? How confident is the Department that there will be no illegal movement across borders during the lockdown?
Opening remarks by the Chairpersons
Co-Chairperson Bongo welcomed the Members of the two Committees to this joint meeting. He confirmed that quorum was formed and so the meeting could proceed. He was informed that Ms C Visser (DA, North West) and Mr M Dangor (ANC, Gauteng) sent their absence apologies.
C-Chairperson Bongo mentioned that there were amendments to the time allocation of agenda points for the meeting. Instead of 15 minutes, as originally communicated, Department presentations would now be limited to 10 minutes. Verbal contributions from Members would be limited to three minutes per Member and any additional contributions should be put in writing. This was done to conclude the meeting within the two-hour time allocation.
He commended the government for its sterling work under the leadership of the President. There had been interest from the public and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) on the agenda items of this meeting and he hoped that the matters would be thoroughly discussed. The day before this meeting was Freedom Day (27 April) and this should serve as a reminder to those present about the sacrifices made to gain independence in 1994; this should inspire the public servants to contribute where they can to combat COVID-19 in South Africa (SA). Members should continue to promote COVID-19 precautions within their constituencies.
Remarks by the Minister
Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, greeted the Members present and appreciated the opportunity to for the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to deliver its presentation. Four DHA presentations would be done, each seeking to update the Committee on the different aspects of DHA actions in response to the COVID-19 lockdown.
DHA briefing on safety precautions and areas of services to be rendered during the COVID-19
Mr Jackson McKay, Acting Director-General, DHA, gave the first presentation. In addition to the national identified essential services, the DHA identified the following critical services which would be rendered during national lockdown:
- Re-issuing of birth certificates for citizens who did no longer had their original certificates and needed them to apply for social grants
- Registration of death and issuance of certificates
- Issuance of temporary identity certificates
Mr McKay elaborated on the safety provisions for departmental staff and clients in offices around the country during national lockdown:
- Staff were to be supplied with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizers
- Social distancing to be practiced
- Virtual meetings would replace physical meetings where possible
- Frequent newsletters raising awareness of the COVID-19 virus would be published
- Employee wellness teams would always be on standby to provide psychological support to staff members in all instances of reported exposure to COVID-19
- Occupational Health and Safety teams would also be on standby to provide technical specifications of any required PPE to the Supply Chain Management unit for procurement purposes, in accordance with the Department of Health guidance
- There would be meetings with union representatives to explain administrative protocols in place to protect staff from infection and fear of the pandemic.
Mr McKay also mentioned that there had only been one COVID-19 case reported at a DHA office – on 07 April 2020 in the Vryheid branch, in Kwazulu-Natal. He detailed the process that followed the incident with regards to safety and alternative measures put in place for service delivery.
He explained the funding model of the DHA in response to COVID-19. A DHA COVID-19 Fund of R22 million was created by undertaking the following:
- A one-twelfth cut on 2020/21 travel and subsistence budget
- A one-twelfth cut on 2020/21 accommodation budget
If the budget was found insufficient, or should lockdown continue, the same principle would apply for May 2020 and the subsequent months – for as long as this may be required. The total expenditure to date was R8.3 Million.
Lastly, Mr McKay detailed the Department’s procurement process for purchases related to COVID-19. Donations and pledges to the value of R400 000 were received and would be used to purchase masks, disinfection chest pads, and non-contact thermometers.
Briefing by the DHA on the proposed birth registration recovery plan and collection of IDs
Mr Njabulo Nzuza, Deputy Minister: Home Affairs, presented the briefing. He said that due to the backlog caused by the national lockdown, the Department was anticipating a high demand of birth certificates in order to take advantage of the social relief efforts announced by the President. The DHA drafted a plan to deal with the backlog:
- The Department resolved to provide services for eight hours instead of the normal four
- Floor managers would ensure that social distancing was adhered to as per regulations
- All staff members shall be provided with PPE
- Queues would be separated according to services
- Communication (internal and external) through multimedia channels would assist in bringing the clients to offices for immediate registration
- A full register of everyone (including names, residential address and contact details) who would be visiting the office must always be kept
Briefing by the DHA on closure and opening of the ports of entry during the COVID-19 period
The Minister of Home Affairs gave a presentation on the management of the ports of entry during the COVID-19 lockdown period. He laid out the roles and responsibilities of the various organs of state concerning South African borders. He identified the DHA as responsible for authorised human movement into or out of the country as well as the designation or withdrawal of ports of entry.
Since the declaration of national state of disaster, 35 land ports and two maritime ports had been closed. The presentation further indicated which ports were still open.
Briefing by the DHA on the removal and movement of refugees in Cape Town Central Business District during the lockdown period
The Minister gave a chronological account of the meetings that took place and the actions taken on the matter of the refugees from 10 February 2020 to 07 April 2020.
He concluded that there were no legal provisions within the Constitution and SA laws for refugee camps within the country and so the DHA was not empowered to provide accommodation, shelter and sustenance to refugees or any person (national or non-national) in South Africa; these were to be provided by authorities in the countries where people come from.
Mr A Gxoyiya (ANC, Northern Cape) welcomed the good work the DHA was doing. He asked whether the DHA was ready and equipped to enforce and check the safety measures in place for the staff at DHA offices. Are there checks and balances for procurement during this abnormal time where supplies may need to be procured at short notice?
He welcomed the plan outlined by the Deputy Minister which addressed the backlogs created by the national lockdown. Regarding the ports of entry, is there an improvement in the working relations between the DHA and border offices to ensure seamless partnership? How confident is the Department that there will be no illegal movement across borders during the lockdown?
Mr R Dyantyi (ANC) agreed that the refugees should be reintegrated into the communities they came from within South Africa. If that failed they must be deported. The first option seemed to have failed so he asked what the timeline for deportation would be.
Mr Dyantyi said that essential workers were increasingly becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus. Are there screenings at DHA offices to protect these essential workers?
Mr D Moela (ANC) agreed that all essential workers at DHA and its clients must be protected and screened. Has the DHA conducted screenings at the locations where refugees are located?
Regarding ports of entry, he reckoned that SA borders must remain secured so as to prevent foreigners from entering illegally and receiving the emergency stipends allocated for South Africans, as announced by the President. He welcomed the measures being taken to address and reduce the backlog for birth certificates.
Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) indicated that she had visited the DHA branch in Bellville, Western Cape, earlier in the day. She found that no social distancing measures were being observed. The workers at the Bellville office were wearing PPE masks but not gloves. Do these offices not have enough PPE stock? How will this issue be monitored and addressed?
She asked if the countries where the refugees were from, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi, offered any help to repatriate their citizens. She had visited the Wingfield Refugee Camp in Western Cape on April 27th. There were no social distancing measures observed or PPE masks worn. She understood that the camp was not controlled by the DHA but the matter had to be addressed. How the law was being enforced at the border? There were reports that unessential travel was still occurring.
Concerning birth registration, she asked whether mothers with new-born babies would be prioritised in queues as they would probably need to take their babies with them to registration. Is it possible to team up with the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) so that those who qualify for the Child Support Grant (CSG) can apply for a birth certificate and the grant concurrently? Lastly, are proof-of-birth forms and road-to-health cards being printed and delivered to healthcare facilities during the lockdown period? This documentation was necessary for mothers to apply for the grant.
Ms M Mmola (ANC, Mpumalanga) emphasised that unregistered births must be certified urgently. She asked whether the amount of returning staff mentioned by the Deputy Minister would be enough to address the backlog of birth certificate requests.
She also asked how the R1 million given to head offices would be accounted for. The DHA representatives should clarify why the expenditure on slide 17 indicated more than R1 million being allocated. Lastly, will South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers be stationed at the borders?
Mr J McGluwa (DA) was concerned that the DHA only had R13.7 million left in its budget. Where did this funding come from, considering that the efforts to address the pandemic were obviously not budgeted for initially? Are there any attempts or suggestions by the DHA to get more donations?
Regarding social distancing in the DHA offices, will the Department deploy inspectors to ensure safety protocols are followed?
He suggested that the Department should not require the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and identity documents in order to approve food grants for the most vulnerable people during the pandemic.
He asked if there was any engagement between the Minister of the DHA and Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) regarding the Beitbridge border fence. It would be very hard for the DHA to execute its responsibilities when the DPWI had effectively erected a washing line on the Beitbridge border, increasing the possibility for illegal entry into SA.
On the issue of the refugees in Cape Town, Mr McGluwa pointed out there were many competing claims about their conditions. Is the Minister able to submit summaries of the meetings that took place between the various role-players regarding this issue so that the Committee can form its own opinion about the situation? The number of refugees that were originally situated at the Methodist Church in Bellville had increased from 350 to 600 as more people wanted to receive food provisions. How will the Department deal with this influx, considering that government should care for people first, regardless of their nationality?
Mr E Mthethwa (ANC) asked what the current death rate from COVID-19 was since the national lockdown began. What would happen to the closed borders after 02 May 2020, when the lockdown level would be decreased to level four? He also asked whether the repatriated South Africans would be screened upon return to the country. Finally, he asked why the refugees refuse to go back to their home country, even if assistance would be provided by SA and their home countries.
Ms A Khanyile (DA) asked whether the DHA’s mobile units were ready for use. The Committee was told that the mobile units should be available in February 2020. If the units were ready they could be sent to rural areas, thereby not requiring citizens in those areas to travel and increase the threat of spreading the virus. Lastly, what is the process for foreign nationals who receive emergency medical treatment like chemotherapy in South Africa?
Mr S Zandamela (EFF) said that the Minister only mentioned one case where someone tested positive for COVID-19 at a DHA office. Could the Minister give a breakdown of all COVID-19 cases of DHA staff nationwide? The DHA should clarify the figures from the first presentation as the figures regarding funds allocated to provinces did not balance. Lastly, he asked what the provisions for emergency service delivery for people in rural areas were.
Mr A Roos (DA) asked if it would not be better to allocate the R1 million budget per province according to demand for funds and not just by province. Most provinces seemed to not be ready to effectively respond to the virus outbreak. Eastern Cape had only spent R62 000 of their DHA budget, yet the province had the third highest daily birth registrations. The North West office had no PPE masks; the Eastern Cape office had no hand sanitizers; Limpopo reportedly had R342 000 worth of hand sanitizer and KZN had R92 000 worth of hand sanitizer. Are there guidelines in different provinces for how the money should be spent? Why have the digital thermometers only been bought in Western Cape?
Mr Roos also suggested that to deal with the backlog of birth certificates, the DHA offices needed to open on Saturdays and use mobile units, especially in rural areas.
Mr Roos expressed his disapproval of a recommendation for the DHA to deport the refugees currently housed at the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town. This would contravene the International Law principle of non-refoulement. There had not been any input received by all requested stakeholders involved in this refugee matter. There also had been no contribution from the SADF or the City of Cape Town. Regarding migrant visas that end on 31 July, will they only expire at end of this lockdown?
Ms Z Ncitha (ANC, Northern Cape) asked whether the DHA gave precise details on how the provincial budgets of R1 million would be spent. The DHA could use the R13.7 million that was left in its budget to invest heavily in more mobile units to service rural areas. Has there been interaction between the Minister and representatives from DRC and Burundi to facilitate the repatriation of refugees?
Co-Chairperson Shaikh asked if there were adequate safety measures, such as social distancing and sanitizers, at the refugee settlement located at the Wingfield military base.
Co-Chairperson Shaikh emphasised the importance of having a Border Management Authority and asked the Minister to brief the Committee on when this authority would be established. Is the erection of the Beitbridge border fence currently effective in securing the border, considering the media reporting that it is compromised? Lastly, she asked if the DHA could give an update on the functioning of the Lindela Repatriation Centre.
Mr M Chabane (ANC) said that he would like to clarify the narrative suggested by Mr Roos, regarding refugees. The directives issued by the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs regarding the refugees were to integrate the refugees into SA society and if that failed, deport them. This was decided after a detailed discussion between all stakeholders. Will the DHA keep the dormant borders closed until end of the national lockdown period?
He supported the use of mobile units to be rolled out in rural areas. Even though it was not the DHA’s responsibility to fix it, he asked if the Minister could explain the impact and extent of the Beitbridge border fence damage.
Co-Chairperson Bongo said that any responses from the DHA that could not be dealt with in this meeting must be submitted in writing within three days.
Mr McKay responded that the funds allocated toward the COVID-19 DHA budget consisted of the savings made from accommodation and travelling for the month of April. The Department was able to save R22 million. All nine provinces were given R1 million each. When he mentioned that ports of entry were allocated funding, he did not mean that every port of entry was given R1 million. Funds were given centrally to the chief directorate that managed ports of entry.
In response to Mr Gxoyiya’s question, the Minister indicated that SAPS officers were still stationed at the closed ports of entry to monitor activity in order to ensure there was no illegal movement across borders. SANDF soldiers were also deployed at ports of entry and were currently responsible for border security.
The Minister said that the Ambassadors of Burundi, DRC and Ethiopia were willing to help repatriate citizens back to their home country. He admitted that repatriation was not the ideal solution. Ideally, the DHA wanted to integrate them into SA. However, it was only since the refugees refused to reintegrate that they would be repatriated. He added that the repatriation of refugees would not happen during the lockdown in order to limit cross border travel.
In response to Ms van der Merwe, the Minister clarified that mothers did not have to report to the DHA with their new-born babies to obtain their birth registration. Only the mother, with relevant documents, needed to go to DHA offices to receive a birth certificate.
To answer Ms Mmola, the Minister said that the repatriation of South African fell within the responsibilities of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), not the DHA.
In response to Mr McGluwa’s question, there was indeed documentation that the DHA could provide in settling the competing claims about the matter of refugees in the Western Cape. Responding to Ms Khanyile, the Minister indicated that foreigners that required emergency medical services like chemotherapy would still be accommodated to receive treatment in SA.
To answer Mr Zandamela, the Minister indicated that only one DHA worker had tested positive for COVID-19 in the country – the case mentioned in the first presentation by Mr McKay. The documents (visa, asylum permit) would not be regarded as expired if they expired during lockdown. If they expire during lockdown, they would be extended to 01 July 2020. However, if a foreigner’s passport expired during this time, it would be their country’s responsibility to issue a new one.
In response to Co-Chairperson Shaikh’s question, the Minister indicated that the Border Management Authority Bill was awaiting the President’s signature. The current circumstances indicated that this Bill was needed to assist in delegating tasks and responsibility between government departments with regard to SA borders.
Co-Chairperson Shaikh commended the DHA for their service delivery during this difficult time. She commended their efforts to register new-born babies and deal with the backlog associated with this extended period of lockdown. On ports of entry, she said the DHA should consider having mandatory screening for the COVID-19 virus post-lockdown. The two committees would continue to provide oversight. It would be important for the Department to also consider and focus on service delivery plans and strategies for post-lockdown.
Co-Chairperson Bongo said that the position of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs regarding the status of the refugees at the Methodist Church and Winfield base was that they should be integrated into SA. However, if they refused they should be repatriated. The Committee would engage with the DPWI on the matter concerning the Beitbridge fence.
Co-Chairperson Bongo concluded the meeting by encouraging the Members of the Committees stay strong and work together to beat this virus.
The meeting was adjourned.
Bongo, Adv BT
Shaikh, Ms S
Brauteseth, Mr TJ
Dodovu, Mr TSC
Du Toit, Mr SF
Dyantyi, Mr QR
Gxoyiya, Mr AB
Khanyile, Ms AT
Legwase, Ms TI
Lekota, Mr M
McGluwa, Mr JJ
Mfayela, Mr SE
Michalakis, Mr G
Mmola, Ms MP
Modise, Ms M
Moela, Mr DL
Molekwa, Ms MA
Motsoaledi, Dr PA
Mthethwa, Mr EM
Nzuza, Mr NB
Roos, Mr AC
Sileku, Mr IM
Tito, Ms LF
Visser, Ms C
Zandamela, Mr S
van der Merwe, Ms LL
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