Refugees in Cape Town: stakeholder engagement postponed; with Ministry

Home Affairs

01 September 2020
Chairperson: Mr M Chabane (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs (NA) 01 Sep 2020

10 Mar 2020 Refugee situation in Cape Town: stakeholder engagement; with the Minister
29 Oct 2019 Issues that affect migrants and citizens: engagement with NGOs & stakeholders
22 Oct 2019 Impact of illegal migration to cities: Joburg & Ekurhuleni Mayors, SALGA & Minister

The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs met for a briefing and progress update on refugees and asylum seekers during the COVID-19 lockdown and the removal and integration of the protesting refugees at Green Market Square in Cape Town. The meeting was a follow-up to the previous 10 March 2020 meeting.

The Committee was set to receive reports from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the City of Cape Town. Members commended the UNHCR for submitting its report in a timely manner. However, they expressed disappointment in the SAHRC and Home Affairs who had both submitted their reports late. The City of Cape Town failed to provide a report as it said this was a Home Affairs matter.

Members criticised the laxity of these stakeholders and said their conduct lacked the seriousness required as it has both national and international implications. Due to the late submissions and non-submission of reports, Members were unable to prepare to be able to engage sufficiently in their discussion. The Committee said the meeting was to be scheduled with the intent of reaching a collective decision informed by the inputs of all relevant stakeholders. As a result, the Committee agreed to defer the meeting to mid-October when Parliament resumes. All outstanding reports had to be submitted by 9 September.

Meeting report

The meeting was scheduled as a follow-up to a previous engagement held on 10 March 2020 concerning refugees during the national lockdown. Relevant stakeholders included the Department of Home Affairs led by Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and Deputy Minister Njabulo Nzuza; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and City of Cape Town.

Election of Acting Chairperson
The Committee Secretary announced that the Chairperson, Adv B Bongo (ANC), was currently on leave.

Mr J McGluwa (DA) asked if the Chairperson had provided reason for taking leave as this is usually required by procedure. There were rumours circulating in the media about the reasons he had taken leave.

The Secretary replied that Adv Bongo had called to inform him he was on leave but had not provided a reason.

Mr M Chabane (ANC) was elected as Acting Chairperson.

Ms A Khanyile (DA) said the Democratic Alliance was not in favour of Mr Chabane’s election as Adv Bongo had not given reasons for his absence. A year ago, the DA had voted against the election of Adv Bongo as Committee Chairperson. However, African National Congress MPs had insisted on his election. She hopes this is a lesson for the ANC.

Mr R Dyantyi (ANC) said Ms Khanyile’s statement was just silly.

Mr McGluwa was vehement that DA MPs had told the ANC that there were charges against Adv Bongo but the ANC had not listened. Adv Bongo has now been fired by the ANC.

Ms M Modise (ANC) said the DA cannot assume that the reason for its non-support of Adv Bongo’s election as Chairperson is the same reason he is not present at the current meeting.

Mr McGluwa insisted that Adv Bongo has been fired by the ANC and it must be forthcoming on the matter.

Mr D Moela (ANC) said Adv Bongo has not been fired, even if that were the case, it would strictly be a matter for the ANC.

Mr McGluwa said it is a matter of the country and not the ANC.

The Acting Chairperson said Adv Bongo has taken leave according to the Rules of Parliament; therefore, the meeting should proceed as planned. Any other ANC issues will be communicated by the Chief Whip, Ms Pemmy Majodina.

Refugees in Cape Town: stakeholder engagement; with Ministry
The Acting Chairperson welcomed those present and noted the Minister would be leaving the meeting early to attend to other matters. The meeting was convened to receive updates from stakeholders about refugees during the COVID-19 lockdown including the removal and integration of the protesting refugees at Green Market Square in Cape Town. The Committee had expected to receive full reports from all stakeholders. The UNHCR and the Department had provided reports. However, the SAHRC had submitted its report late and the City of Cape Town had failed to provide a report. Therefore, MPs would be limited in their ability to engage sufficiently.

The meeting was particularly crucial as it followed the signing into law of the Border Management Authority (BMA) Bill by President Cyril Ramaphosa. This is a significant move for the country in its efforts to safeguard its borders and sovereignty. Therefore, the Chairperson is surprised by the lateness and failure to submit reports by the SAHRC and the City of Cape Town. He invited MPs to consider if the SAHRC and City of Cape Town should be deferred to another meeting given the outstanding and untimely reports.

Mr A Roos (DA) said the matter of migrants has been ongoing since November and there is a need for conclusion to be reached to pave a way forward. These presentations are critical to reaching an agreement.

Ms L Tito (EFF) said the norm is to defer presentations that are received late. The Committee had received the SAHRC presentation on the day of the meeting which did not allow MPs enough time to peruse the document. The City of Cape Town had failed to submit a presentation. Therefore, the Committee should not continue with these two presentations.

Ms Khanyile agreed the Committee should move the briefings to the next meeting to be able to interact fully.

Mr McGluwa said there should have been communication between the organisations and the Committee as far as the submission of reports is concerned. They must rise to the occasion in providing reasons why reports have not been submitted timeously. The Committee should be aware that it will be setting a precedent for future meetings if SAHRC and the City of Cape Town are allowed to present despite an untimely submission and non-submission.

Ms T Legwase (ANC) agreed that MPs cannot proceed without presentations. MPs cannot be expected to adequately perform their duty if they are not given reports on time. This cannot be the standard moving forward.

Ms Modise said the lack of reports will make it difficult for the Committee to deliberate sufficiently. The matter being discussed is of public interest and requires thorough engagement. The SAHRC and City of Cape Town should be deferred for another meeting. Going forward, presentations should simply not be allowed if reports are not submitted earlier as expected.

Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) said the standard practice in Parliament requires reports to be submitted to the Committee 48 hours before the scheduled meeting to allow the MPs to familiarise themselves with the issue. The Department’s presentation had only arrived the previous night and was therefore late according to parliamentary rules. The Department should not be exonerated which then leaves the Committee with one presentation to engage with. Following the previous March meeting, stakeholders had been given ample time and specific guidelines on areas requiring attention. The Department’s presentation was not only late but lacked details. If the SAHRC and City of Cape will not be allowed to present due to late or non-submission, the same should apply to the Department. The conduct of the stakeholders does not speak to the seriousness of the matter and shows a lack of respect for the Committee. Therefore, the meeting should be deferred to a later date.

SAHRC Commissioner, Mr Chris Nissen, was reprimanded for disrupting the discussion as his audio was not muted on the virtual platform.

Mr Moela agreed with previous speakers and said the Committee cannot be undermined by officials who fail to submit reports timeously. It will be difficult for MPs to engage without the reports, the Committee should only attend to those received on time.

Mr M Lekota (COPE) said the matter of refugees has several international implications as it concerns citizens of various countries. The Committee needs to be very careful on how it engages the matter. He appealed for documents to be submitted in a timely manner for the Committee to be able to discuss sufficiently in the following meeting.

The Acting Chairperson said the reports from the SAHRC and the City of Cape Town should be deferred to the next meeting. Refugees is central to the entire country. He agreed that the Committee should not be undermined by stakeholders. It is unacceptable for reports to be submitted late or not at all. The Committee should proceed with the the UNHCR and the Department. The SAHRC and City of Cape will be first on the agenda at the next meeting. He asked the Secretary to ensure that the meeting is prioritised for the second week of October when Parliament resumes.

The SAHRC and City of Cape Town were asked to provide reasons for late submission and non-submission.

Mr Nissen apologised for causing the audio disruption and for the late submission of the report. He requested that he provide the context of the SAHRC report.

The Acting Chairperson replied that the Committee had already ruled that the SAHRC would present in the next meeting, therefore Mr Nissen should not use this as an opportunity to brief MPs on the context of the report. He invited the City of Cape Town to explain why it had not submitted a report.

Councillor Zahid Badroodien, Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health, City of Cape Town, replied that there had been confusion about the role of the City of Cape Town as it has very little responsibility over the care of refugees particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. This responsibility lies solely with Home Affairs. Up to this point, it has not done much apart from putting refugees into tents located throughout the city.

The Acting Chairperson interjected and reminded Councillor Badroodien that the Committee was not going to be dealing with the contents of the report. He noted the confusion raised by the City and said the Committee Secretary would write to the City of Cape Town to make clear what the expectations for the report are as previously expressed in March.

Councillor Badroodien interjected and said it was incorrect to say the City of Cape Town is confused. The Committee should have made its expectations clear prior to the meeting.

Councillor Jean-Pierre Smith, Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, City of Cape Town interjected and complained that he had been requesting to provide input but had not been given an opportunity.

Mr Moela vehemently said the Committee cannot be further undermined by officials. City of Cape Town officials were now presenting other issues which are not relevant to what was asked. The arrogance displayed has no place in the meeting. He suggested the City of Cape Town must be dismissed from the meeting and return at a later date.

Councillor Smith interjected and said he had a formal message he had to convey from the Mayor.

The Acting Chairperson emphasised that he had already made a ruling that the SAHRC and City of Cape Town would be invited to present in another meeting. The Committee Secretary would write a detailed communication to the two of them expressing the expectations for the reports. The Committee is adamant that a collaborative effort is needed to deal with refugees. The UNHCR was invited to proceed with its presentation.

Ms van der Merwe said she does not see the benefit of receiving two presentations today and deferring those outstanding for another date when it is imperative to have a collective discussion and response with all relevant stakeholders. As indicated by Mr Lekota, this issue has international implications and requires thoughtful engagement. Additionally, if the Committee is to exclude the SAHRC on the grounds that their report was submitted late, the same should apply to the Department. She asked for guidance why the Committee would want to engage on the matter partially only to return to discuss the same matter at a later date.

The Acting Chairperson insisted that the Committee should proceed with the presentations from the UNHCR and Department. The failure to submit reports timeously by SAHRC and the City of Cape Town is not in line with how the Committee operates.

Councillor Smith interjected and said he had repeatedly tried to get the Acting Chairperson’s attention to present a key issue concerning the report but had been ignored.

The Acting Chairperson said he had already made a ruling on the matter; he would not be undermined by officials.

Mr Moela stressed that it was unacceptable for officials to bulldoze and undermine the Committee. He asked for the City of Cape Town to be removed from the virtual platform.

The Acting Chairperson emphasised that the Committee would proceed with receiving the presentations from the UNHCR and Department and would return to the SAHRC and City of Cape Town at a later date.

Mr McGluwa said the Committee has nothing to lose by hearing inputs from the SAHRC and the City of Cape Town. However, he agreed with Ms van der Merwe that it would be futile to have partial engagement as the matter requires a collective approach from all stakeholders.  Councillor Smith has repeatedly attempted to provide insight on a critical matter about the report. If Councillor Smith is not allowed the opportunity to speak and the Committee takes the decision to proceed with other presentations, the DA might as well leave the meeting.

Mr Moela said Mr McGluwa is free to leave the meeting.

The Acting Chairperson said he would not allow the meeting to be disrupted and requested MPs to allow him to address the meeting. The Committee has made the decision to defer the outstanding reports to another meeting and should not be undermined by officials. Any issues the City of Cape Town has will be expressed in the next meeting. He affirmed the decision not to allow the SAHRC and City of Cape Town to present.

Mr Lekota said the purpose of engaging with all stakeholders on the same day was to enable the Committee to give a recommendation based on presentations which speak to each other. He agreed with Ms van der Merwe that it would be futile to receive two presentations today and defer the rest for a later date. Respectfully, the Committee should review its decision.

Ms Khanyile said she had expected that the Acting Chairperson would have given Councillor Smith an opportunity to relay the message from the Mayor. This would allow the Acting Chairperson to make an informed ruling on how the Committee wishes to proceed. She supported the view that the reports need to be discussed on the same day and that the Department’s report was in fact also received late. MPs have additional administrative responsibilities outside of performing oversight. Receiving reports late presents an additional challenge and limits the ability to engage sufficiently.

Ms Legwase said the Acting Chairperson had already given the City of Cape Town an opportunity to speak before making a ruling. The City of Cape Town should have been decisive on which member of its delegation would present its inputs. It would be unreasonable to expect multiple people to act as representatives. She requested that all those present should respect the meeting and the ruling of the Acting Chairperson to establish a way forward.

The Acting Chairperson requested the Secretary to assist in finding a suitable date to reschedule the meeting. The Secretariat suggested that the meeting be rescheduled for mid-October as Parliament would resume on 6 October and would be prioritising annual reports.

Minister Motsoaledi was asked to explain why the Department’s report had been submitted late.

Minister Aaron Motsoaledi replied that he was unaware that the report had been submitted late. He had been engaged in the NEC meeting over the weekend and had instructed his office to ensure the report was submitted. He apologised profusely and said he respects the Committee. This is not the normal standard of the Department.

The Minister noted that unfortunately he would be leaving the meeting in the next hour to attend a National Command Council meeting. Usually he prioritises Committee meetings; however, he cannot excuse himself from another National Command Council meeting as he has already done so twice. The Department supports the view of postponing the meeting to have a collective discussion. However, he is fearful that the same thing will happen and stakeholders will not have their reports, as was the case in March.

The Acting Chairperson thanked MPs for their contributions and lobbying for a collective approach. SAHRC and the City of Cape Town will be allowed to communicate any further inputs only in the next meeting. The Secretary will write to both organisations detailing what is expected of them. Given the insights provided by the MPs, the meeting will be rescheduled and prioritised as the matter is critical.

The Committee appreciates the timely submission of the UNHCR report and the respect offered to Parliament. All reports are expected to be finalised and submitted by 9 September 2020. Should stakeholders have any issues, they are encouraged to submit these to the Committee in writing.

The meeting was adjourned.                       



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