Zimbabwe Exemption Permit; implementation of Ministerial Permit Review Report; suspensions of senior officials; Shepard Bushiri matter, with Ministry

Home Affairs

13 September 2022
Chairperson: Mr M Chabane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


Press Statement: Zimbabwean Nationals Granted Exemption in terms of Section 31(2)(b) of the Immigration Act

The Committee met with the Department of Home Affairs to receive a briefing on the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP), Shepard Bushiri’s escape, the suspension of senior officials, and the implementation of the Ministerial Reviewing Committee Report on permits and visas.

Members heard that the ZEP was extended for another six months until 30 June 2023. This was done to give Zimbabwean immigrants more time to apply for other visas and no further extensions will be given. Officials in the Department have been charged and suspended for their role in the Shephard Bushiri case. The Department has no knowledge of how the Bushiris escaped as the Hawks are still investigating the matter and will not share any information. As of 31 July 2022, six senior officials have been placed on precautionary suspension and are being suspended with remuneration.

The Minister said fraudulent officials are selling the country to the lowest bidder. If such fraud continues, there will be no country remaining. He highlighted how the Department deals with officials implicated in wrongdoing: it investigates and finalises its processes, dismisses the person, and if there is criminality, hands them over to the Hawks.

Members expressed concern about the delays in finalising disciplinary cases, the salaries paid to suspended officials, the lack of progress, and information concerning the Bushiri escape and the ZEP renewal.

The Committee Chairperson informed the Minister that there is sometimes poor communication from the Department, and that officials are slow to answer queries from both the Members and the public. Members said that they often operate as a “call centre” for people having issues with the Department. The amount of people who come to them is overwhelming and sometimes, they lose track of which queries are unanswered. The Minister committed to working on this and advised Members to copy him when they correspond with the Department.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed everyone. He said that the Department sometimes sends its reports late and this makes it more difficult for the Committee Members and staff to interact with those reports. This is not the first time that they are raising this matter. The Department needs to address this issue of late submissions of presentations. Originally, they thought that it was the Committee Secretary who was sending them the reports late. However, they realised that it was from the side of the Department. It is a serious concern that needs to be addressed. When meetings are scheduled and issues are raised, those who are presenting prepare to interact with the Members. When a meeting is postponed, it messes with the programme of the Committee. When the Department only informs the Committee that the meeting will be postponed last minute, it complicates the work of the Committee. He wants the Minister to comment on this.

He thanks the staff at Home Affairs for the work that they have done. They have received a request from a Councillor in Johannesburg for the Department to, along with the police, assist them with the undocumented foreign nationals situation. He applauded the Department for responding to this request. They also noted the Deputy Minister’s continuous work in parts of the Eastern Cape. They call on all stakeholders to be on the ground and to interact with the work of the Department and the services that it offers to its communities. This work needs to be done and all of the Department’s resources used to assist community members. The Committee’s joint oversight with the Portfolio Committees on Police and Mineral Resources and Energy is underway. They began in Limpopo with Sekhukhune and Capricorn and are identifying some of the challenges the communities face. They are pleased with the work done and commended the teams joining them in the joint oversight.

Committee Members are receiving much communication from community members asking them to assist with the problems that are facing the Department. He applauded real officials, like the Director-General, who promptly responded to issues that the Members raised. However, they must also pay attention to improving the work of Mr Yusuf Simons. He took long to respond to queries, and so Members cannot resolve these queries because they are unable to get information about exactly what the issues are. They send messages to Mr Simons and he takes a long time to respond, whether it be Committee Members or members of the community. He does not even acknowledge receipt of queries or complaints. They now refer these issues to the Director-General. These issues were raised two months ago and they still have not received a response or even an acknowledgement of the query. Communication with Parliament and with society is an essential part of the Department’s job and it needs to be improved. Moving forward, the Committee Secretary has been tasked with keeping track of unanswered issues, and where necessary, referring them to the Minister directly.

Minister Aaron Motsoaledi apologised for last week’s meeting being postponed. It clashed with the lekgotla. This Committee is on record congratulating himself and the Deputy Minister for always being available for meetings. They have always been available because they move over responsibilities and meetings aside to meet with the Committee. Last week, it was impossible for them to attend the Committee meeting. He was not informed of the clash because sometimes he is not in the office and in communities in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo as part of the mobile unit programme. He tries his best to make the Committee his top priority but sometimes this is not possible. He could not miss the lekgotla because it discusses what must be achieved in the upcoming financial year. The Department could not miss that.

The agreement between the Committee and the Department is that documents and presentations need to be sent 48 hours before the meeting. This usually means they must be sent on a Sunday. The documents were on his table by Friday. He was supposed to read them and send them to the Committee, but because of the mobile programme that he spoke of, he wasn’t in the office when they dropped off the documents. When he did read it, he discovered that it was filled with mistakes and inaccuracies. It needed to be fixed and this took time. This is similar to Parliamentary questions. He signs them off, but officials provide the answers because the questions are often technical. Sometimes these answers are also incorrect and need fixing. They have since implemented strict timeframes– such as when documents are supposed to be sent, when they are supposed to be signed off by him, etc. When Parliamentary questions arrive, they are not brought to his office. The PLO sends them to various officials that will be able to answer them, and then they are brought to the Minister to approve.

The Minister said this is the first time that he is hearing about the Committee’s struggles with Mr Simons. If any Member had directly sent a query to an official, the Minister would have no knowledge of this as the query would not be addressed to himself as well. He is taking political responsibility for this matter. He requested that if Members make direct queries to any officials that they cc him in as well so that he has knowledge of the question. He will be able to see how many queries officials receive and who is or isn’t answering them. Sometimes it takes a long time to answer a question as investigations need to be done. The Department is digitising the 350 million records. Sometimes queries from Members or members of the public require officials to go into the archive and look among the 350 million records for answers. That is why the Department was given R2.4 billion over the next three years to assist with the digitisation process, as it slows down the processes of the country. However, the responses still should have been acknowledged, even if it takes a while to provide an answer.

Briefing by the Department

The Minister and Mr Livhuwani Makhode, DG, DHA, made the presentation.

Zimbabwe Exemption Permit

In 2008, South Africa experienced an influx of asylum seekers from the Southern African Development Community (“SADC”). The majority of them were Zimbabwean nationals. The Department had neither the staff complement nor the financial resources to deal with the influx. In 2009, the then Minister granted exemptions to the SADC nationals. The exemptions were a temporary measure, pending improvement of the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe. In December 2021, the permit was extended for a period of 12 months to allow the holders thereof to apply for one or other visa provided for in the Immigration Act. The extension will end on 31 December 2022. On 2 September 2022, the permit was further extended for another six months until 30 June 2023. The second extension was made on the recommendation of Dr Cassius Lubisi who is leading the Departmental Advisory Committee (DAC). There will be no further extension granted by the Minister. Various organizations representing ZEP holders have taken the Department to Court.

Shephard Bushiri

An investigation was done into how the Bushiris obtained their fraudulent visas. A senior official of the Department was charged with:
Gross Dishonesty
Gross Negligence
Non-compliance with the Immigration Act, Regulations and Standard Operating Procedures

The disciplinary process has been finalized and the senior official was found guilty on two of the charges. On 23 May 2022, a sanction of dismissal with immediate effect was imposed. The matter is currently under arbitration at the General Public Service Sectoral Bargaining Council. An additional four officials were placed on precautionary suspension from 15 to 18 March 2022 for aiding and abetting in connection with this matter. Disciplinary inquiries are currently underway.

The Department amended its legislation to provide for the issuance of visitor’s visas, instead of work visas, to foreign religious workers. This change means that there is no avenue for these religious workers to migrate to permanent residence status.

The question of how the Bushiris left the country remains the subject of an investigation by relevant law enforcement agencies led by the Hawks.

Suspension of senior officials

18 charges of misconduct have been issued against staff in the Department. Of these, 6 cases have been finalised and 12 are pending. The majority of the misconduct cases related to the fraudulent issuance of passports.

As of 26 August 2022, 32 officials were serving a precautionary suspension. The financial implication of this is R6 430 273.

As of 31 July 2022, six of the Department’s 140 members of the Senior Management Services (SMS) had been placed on precautionary suspension, pending an investigation into/disciplinary action arising out of acts/allegations of serious misconduct.    

The suspensions were informed by the following acts/allegations of misconduct:  
Gross negligence and dereliction of duty (3 members)
Assault (2 members)
Issuing of unlawful instructions regarding permit applications/appeals (1 member)

As the suspensions are precautionary in nature, the officials are suspended with remuneration. The total financial implications of the six suspensions amount to R2 838 916 in salaries.

Implementation plan of the report of the Ministerial Reviewing Committee on permits and visas

The main recommendation of the Ministerial Review Committee is that a Multi-Disciplinary Task Team be appointed to take forward the findings of the Ministerial Committee. The Task Team consists of experienced senior councils, forensic investigators, data analysts and other related skills. This is because the team will do deep-dive investigations. The process of acquiring a Multi-Disciplinary Team is on.

(See presentation)

The Chairperson said that according to the Minister, the law enforcement agency will only present their progress on the Bushiri matter to the courts. The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services had said that the extradition process is underway and that there are certain processes that need to occur. It is important that they find a way to interact with the Committee on this matter.

Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) said that she is really surprised that the officials who are “selling our country to the highest bidder” are not in jail and instead can make appeals to the Bargaining Council (General Public Service Sectoral Bargaining Council). It is very worrying that there is a perception that things are not well within the Department and that officials are guilty of corruption. These officials are able to sell permits, and yet they hardly ever go to jail for fraud. With the Bushiri matter, it is a very sad state of affairs that the wheels of justice turn so slowly, and that they might never know who aided or abetted the Bushiris in their escape. Is the Department focusing on churches owned by foreign nationals to establish whether the owners are in the country legally and if they have work permits? She was worried when she saw that the ZEP was constantly being extended so she thanked the Minister for providing clarity on this. Are they expecting any further delays? Will the work that needs to be done not be completed and will further delays occur? There seems to be an issue in the Department where all sorts of permits are taking a very long time to be finalised. Will the extension impact this backlog?

In the media recently the Minister said that the visas of Basotho nationals would also be coming to an end. In Parliament recently, the President referred to meetings with Nigeria and others regarding the immigration crisis. What was the outcome of these meetings? Will these meetings regarding illegal migration be extended to other countries, such as Ethiopia, Somalia, and Bangladesh? How are these countries going to assist South Africa with its illegal migration crisis? The ZEP was only a temporary arrangement. She saw on social media that some Zimbabweans are saying that if the permit ends, they will simply come back to South Africa illegally. She is concerned that they are ending permits for people who are accounted for, and that South Africa does not have a concrete plan to deal with the 5-10 million illegal migrants that are within its borders. They often speak about the Border Management Authority, but it seems that there is no clear plan emanating from the government or the Department for how they are going to deal with the illegal immigration crisis that is affecting the safety and security of the country.

Ms M Molekwa (ANC) said that because the ZEP matter is still in court, they should await the final outcome of that process, and then they should have a briefing from the Minister. On the Bushiri matter, she appreciated that the presentation cleared up some of the questions that were being raised by the media.

Ms A Khanyile (DA) asked the Minister for the email address that he referred to when he said that they should include him in their queries to officials. Members receive a huge amount of queries and when they send them to Immigration, they don’t get responses. When the responses come, they come around eight months too late with the same status. There is also a lack of urgency within the Department. She was assisting a man who was picked up by the system as an illegal immigrant and his ID was blocked. This happened in 2018. He said that nothing was done until he approached the Committee in 2021. She has submitted the matter to the Department and an investigation was done. Around April 2022, she was told that the ID would be unblocked. However, this still has not been done. She requested that the Minister looks into this issue and makes sure that the Department has a better turn-around time. She appreciated the clarity that was given on the ZEP matter because they have been getting a lot of queries about this from members of the community and it was difficult to respond. The Minister indicated that the Department had received 4000 visa applications and 6000 for the waiver. He has also indicated that there are around 178 000 ZEP holders. If people do not make applications for the visa or waiver, what is going to happen? Are there any plans to deport these individuals once the Committee has received the court order? ZEP holders are saying that their accounts have been frozen. Why have they been frozen? Will they remain frozen until the court finalises its decision? What are the plans around laying criminal charges in the Bushiri case?

Ms L Tito (EFF) asked why staff are being paid if they are on suspension and are not working. Given the number of exemptions and the total cost over the ten years mentioned in the presentation, each application cost was only around R1000. Has an estimation been done on the additional cost of VFS services related to the ZEP versus conventional visa applications?

Mr A Roos (DA) said that the Minister would get very tired of being copied in on all emails, considering that there will be very many and the Committee serves as a call centre for Home Affairs when people can’t get through. They should also consider that Members or complainants receive a reference number for an inquiry. Some queries are lost and the Committee does not have the capacity to track these things. They don’t have a TRN system as a call centre does. He has found Mr Simons to be very responsive and helpful. If they implement reference numbers, they will be able to pick up patterns on who is or is not responding. Right now, these complaints are all anecdotal. If these issues are given reference numbers, then they will be able to have a factual discussion about problems within the Department.

They need to look at the reasons behind why the ZEP is the sizeable issue that it is now. In 2008, there was an influx of asylum seekers and Home Affairs had no capacity to cope. That’s why the permit was put into place. There were reasons why this influx occurred. It occurred as a result of political violence, abductions, torture and economic factors. When one applies for asylum, the authorities consider the reason behind why the person has chosen to leave their country. A blanket permit groups everybody under one reason for leaving. They assign the same motive to everybody that has applied for this, and that motive is economic migration. However, some came over fleeing violence and the threat of abduction. The DA, SACP and COSATU were calling for sanctions against Zimbabwe. The government went for a quiet diplomacy approach and it did not work. That is why people had to flee to South Africa. They should not be surprised if some of these people don’t qualify for a work permit or don’t apply for it. The Committee was told that the ZEP has always been a temporary measure and it is pending the political and economic improvement of Zimbabwe. Has there been an assessment of how many people fled because of violence and torture? Is that danger no longer there? If these people had to go back, would they still be in danger of victimisation? If these people had been processed as Section 22, this proper analysis would have taken place. Because of the incapacity of government to process them as they should have, now these people have actually lost the right not to be sent back to a dangerous country under international law.

Has any consideration been given to a levy for the renewal of a ZEP? He used a simple example of the levy on renewing a VFS. R1450 times 180 000 over a ten-year period is R650 million. The Department claims that it costs R188 million over ten years. If it had to charge a levy for the renewal of these permits, it could get R650 million in revenue. They would only need a fraction of this. With the rest of the amount, they could potentially sort out the visa processing crisis. The government claims it can no longer afford it, but in his mind, there are some simple solutions to the issue. Is this being considered? If not, why not? If they considered keeping all human rights programmes in place purely based on budgetary reasons, then what would the result be? Are they going to release inmates because correctional services ran out of budget and can no longer afford to feed them?

With regards to suspended officials, these officials not only receive salaries but they also receive the perks that they should get for day-to-day work which they are no longer doing. They also receive performance bonuses. What is being done to speed up the investigation? For the officials mentioned in the presentation, there is around a R3 million salary which excludes bonuses and perks. Is there any part of the budget that has been allocated to speed up these investigations, so that if the persons are found guilty, the government is not paying somebody that has been defrauding the Department? On average, it takes about 540 days to process internal disciplinary processes. These people are on paid leave for a year and a half. If a person is found guilty, do they have to pay back any of the performance bonuses that they have received? What law reform can be put into place to tackle this issue? With the permit investigation, there will be many people who will be investigated for fraud who are still being paid for a year and a half.

Has the person who issued the Bushiris their false documentation been implicated in the matter?

Mr K Pillay (ANC) applauded the Chairperson for being proactive, particularly in the letter he sent to the Minister. The Committee has a responsibility to all South Africans to improve services and resolve queries timeously. He noted the progress with investigations and arrests. In the Bushiri matter, there has been a dismissal. He was concerned about what happens after a staff member is suspended. They are suspended with pay and their duties are offloaded onto another staff member or another person is recruited. This is double expenditure.

Regarding the queries that the Chairperson raised at the beginning of the meeting, there is timeous response from the Director-General and Deputy Director-General (DDG). The DDG responds almost immediately. However, he has found that the DDGs responsible for particular matters often fail to respond or even acknowledge the email. They often have to be “chased” for a response. There needs to be some sort of tracking system and a timeous turnaround. How can the ordinary citizen get one if a Member cannot get a response? He knows of an instance where a particular South African citizen became undesirable because of an overstay. They were nine months away before the five-year expiry. Their issue was only addressed nine months before the five years were completed. This is totally unfair. This South African citizen was not allowed to come back to the country in the past four years.

Although he appreciated that some of the officials involved in the Bushiri matter had been arrested, he is more concerned with how Bushiri left the country. The Committee and the Minister should find a way to appeal and write to the Hawks. A criminal matter cannot take this long to be finalised. Are there any updates on the request for extradition of the Bushiris to face criminal charges in South Africa? With the new rules regarding religious leaders, such as visitor permits, they stop religious leaders from coming into the country and working and only then applying for citizenship. He applauded this. What is the duration of a visitor’s permit? It is usually limited to a short period of time. What happens if a religious leader needs to be in the country for a longer period, for example, if they are missionaries who often come to South Africa for longer periods of time? South Africa has a massive fake document challenge. A simple solution would be to fast-track the applications and processes. It cannot take forever to finalise applications. Some people genuinely apply through the system with all of the relevant documents and it takes too long for their application to be finalised.

What is being done to address IT system security? They have found that most issues related to permit and visa fraud is done via the IT system. What are some of the security measures and what has been done to address the security of the IT system? Staff that are involved in fraudulent activity should be immediately suspended. He thinks that it takes too long for them to be suspended. When it takes too long, it gives these staff members an opportunity to commit more fraud.

Ms M Modise (ANC) thanked the Minister for the clarity he has provided. She applauded the Department for handling its fraudulent staff, but a lot more needs to be done, considering the country’s challenges with illegal immigrants. The Department must put strong measures into place to guard against and monitor such officials who make it easy for foreign nationals to attain illegal documents. It can only happen with the aid of officials working inside the Department. With regards to the person who was dismissed over the Bushiri matter, has a criminal case been opened outside of the internal processes of the Department? If not, why not? Are they going to be able to trace religious leaders who are in the country on temporary worker permits? Are there any laws that are going to be enforced to ensure that they leave the country when their permits end?

Mr Njabulo Nzuza, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, said that the Department had delays in processing backend records. This issue is being dealt with and the process is going well. He is sure that in time, it will be able to respond to queries much quicker. Giving people the opportunity to apply for certain visas, such as the ZEP, was a good approach. People cannot continue to stay in the country under unlegislated visa regimes. People who are in South Africa because they are escaping violence should be seeking refugee status. People have not been ignored because they came from their country fleeing political violence. Foreign countries need to deal with the issues that force people to leave their own countries. Immigration must be voluntary; it must not be forced. Foreign countries have a responsibility to deal with this issue. The more they talk about this, the closer they will come to dealing with the immigration crisis.

Minister Motsoaledi said that fraudulent officials sell the country to the lowest bidder. Recently, somebody was sentenced for fraud that they committed in 2017. They only earned R300 from that fraudulent activity. He was sentenced to a jail time of four years and he was wholly suspended for five years. This could encourage people to recommit fraud, selling the country to the lowest bidder. When they began arresting people in 2021, they went to Lebombo and arrested six officials. One of the people arrested was a member of the police. He was only paid around R60 to assist with fraud. Unions have a right to defend their members, as they should. However, the unions must also differentiate between ordinary offences and offences of selling one’s country. If fraud like this continues, no country will remain, including the unions. Unions sometimes ruthlessly defend their members when the state begins to charge them.

When discovering fraud, the state hands the members of staff over to the Hawks. They finish their processes, dismiss the person, and they have to hand them over to the Hawks if there is criminality. For example, in the Bushiri case, they dismissed the person in May but still await the Hawks’ investigation. A Home Affairs official was sent to Namibia for work and found that she was selling visas to Pakistani nationals. They dismissed her and handed over the case to the Hawks. They took a long time. When they were ready to arrest her, she died. The Hawks are dealing with thousands of cases. Maybe that is why they are taking a long time, and the Home Affairs process of discovering fraud and dismissing someone is faster than the Hawks. The case of the R300 fraud occurred in 2017 and the process of sending the person to jail was only completed now. Even after the Department has dismissed a person, their case is still outstanding with the Hawks.

On the issue of churches, they have outlined in the presentation exactly what they are going to do, and if there are any more updates, they will come back and brief the Committee further.

Some people are worried that the ZEP is being delayed further. However, the people who advise him are the ones who are going to do the work. The extension won’t increase the backlog. The team is working with six senior counsels from the private sector. This was done to remove this process from the typical workings of the Department. They are not going to follow the usual processes as they have created a special team that will follow a special process.

Since the government has decided that the ZEP cannot be temporary forever, the same would apply to the Basotho permit. People have raised concern that they are only targeting Zimbabweans. But the Basotho permit only expires at the end of December 2023, not now. The ZEP has expired already, but the Basotho permit has not. That is why their focus has been on the ZEP. It would be unfair to focus on the Basotho too, since it has not expired. They were issued at different times.

There is no neighbour or country that does not agree that the issue of illegal immigration must be dealt with. However, not all of them end up helping. When he was in Beitbridge just before Covid, the South African National Defence Force told him that soldiers on the other side were helping people to cross illegally. The generals in the Zimbabwean army agreed to clamp down on this issue. However, he is not sure if they have done so. When immigrants were staying at the Central Methodist Mission Church in Cape Town, he called the countries from which these people were. He had a sit down with the ambassadors of the DRC and Burundi. The other ambassadors refused to come. The ambassador of the DRC said that he understood South Africa’s situation, but that he was unable to help as he was regarded negatively by the group of immigrants, even though he comes from their own country. They did not listen to him. The Minister met the new ambassador of the DRC recently and he said that he was shocked that people were leaving his country. Apart from those running away from the war in Eastern DRC, he does not see why they would have a reason to leave. The President recently said that immigrants must return and nothing will happen to them. He said that he would try to meet them, but the immigrants might treat him the same way that they treated the previous ambassador. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees once complained to him that there are provisions under the United Nations Convention where people can go home via voluntary repatriation. They are not deported; they leave by choice. At the time he was told this, there were around 900 people who wanted to go home. In this process, the High Commissioner and the International Office of Migration work together with the ambassadors of the countries involved to repatriate people. The Commissioner told him that ambassadors do not budge or work together. He asked for South Africa’s help pressuring them to work with the process. On 25 January 2022, he raised this issue with the High Commissioner. The United Nations agreed that they would convene with ambassadors of countries to ask them to start taking responsibility for their nationals. They are still waiting on this meeting to occur.

They are often told that if they refuse people permits, the people will just come back illegally. When he visited Beitbridge to roll out a cohort of 200 border guards, SAfm was broadcasting from the venue. A man phoned in saying that their efforts are a waste of time and that he illegally transports 3000 people to and from South Africa every month. He said that he bribes the police and will just bribe these new officials as well. There is a belief that entrance into South Africa is going to continue in its current state forever. That is why they deployed 200 border guards, but it is just a droplet in the ocean. They are discussing increasing the number with the Treasury.

The Minister of Finance has come to understand how detrimental it is to the country to not protect the border. He has promised that he is going to help. It is still early days, but the process has begun. The Immigration Act states that it is the responsibility of immigration officers to find the people who are in the country illegally and deport them. There are very few immigration officers and Treasury has given them money to hire more. They are busy doing this. They used to do 240 operations per annum. They are now doing 540. They have a programme where they will search the farms, factories, and trucking industry to look for people who are illegal immigrants. Employers also exacerbate the illegal immigration issue. Some employers deliberately hire illegal workers to have poor employment conditions. It is modern-day slavery. People work for very little or no wages, as is occurring in the hospitality industry. The only wage that the person earns is tips from clients. They are in talks with the Department of Labour to be more proactive about this. In modern-day South Africa, there is no place for exploitation and slavery.

With regards to a perceived lack of urgency, while the Department tries its best, not all officials are the same. When he began working at Home Affairs, he heard of the concept of blocking IDs and he wanted to know under which Act it is done. However, no Act allows for the blocking of IDs. It results from Home Affairs officials panicking. When they discover that someone has a fraudulent South African ID, they are afraid that that person may commit other crimes using the ID. However, the Act does not provide for this. He has told officials many times not to do it. The right procedure is to provide the person a letter saying that they must provide reasoning why their documents cannot be retrieved by the DG. After that, the DG retrieves the documents. IDs should not be blocked; they should be taken away if they are found to be fake. Blocking IDs is a shortcut and it is wrong. The Department tries its best to unlock the IDs and discourage this. If an individual does not apply for a particular visa or permit and is found in South Africa, they are illegal. The ball is in their court, not the government’s court. They deal with them how they deal with anyone in the country illegally, such as those who overstay once their visa or permit expires.

If one looks at the Directives published in December 2021, the banks were told that they may not freeze accounts. If a bank opens an account for somebody on the ZEP and the permit has not expired, they are not supposed to be freezing the account. The account may only be frozen after the permit has expired. They have told the banks this. He is not sure what the powers of the banks are in freezing these accounts. He is not sure if it has been resolved legally or not.

Home Affairs does lay criminal charges against the people they dismiss for fraud.

VSF has costs. When one applies for an ID, passport, etc., there are costs involved and this happens in all parts of the world. No state has the capacity to pay for costs for individuals. The money paid to VSF is not the Department’s. The VFS is running a business and the money doesn’t go to the Department. When they were overwhelmed at the border during Covid, they called in private companies to help with the rapid antigen tests. It was not a tender. It was the business of the private company that will do the tests and get paid by the individual who wants to enter the country. That money doesn’t go to the government. VFS does not work for the state and it is an international company. It facilitates visas and is paid for by individuals applying for visas.

Some people apply for the ZEP, and then arrive in South Africa, claiming that they are asylum seekers and are running away from their country. All immigrants are processed according to the United Nations Convention of 1951, the UN Protocol of 1967, the Organisation of African Unity (AU) of 1969, and the Refugee Act of 1998. However, they created the ZEP because of the issues in Zimbabwe in 2008. They are aware that many people get the permit and then go home for Christmas etc. How do they go home and then claim that they have to stay in South Africa for fear of abduction and violence? This process is called re-availment under the UN Convention. When someone is an asylum seeker or a refugee, they do not return to the country that they ran away from. Even the embassy is not visited. That is international law. There was fraud caught in the Krugersdorp office where a Pakistani man provided himself and others with fake documentation. These people were not legally in South Africa. They arrived and claimed asylum seekers, but they were abusing the system. They wanted to return home; according to law, asylum seekers cannot do that. People like this get fake South African passports and live two lives – the life of being in South Africa as an asylum seeker needing international protection, and being able to go home to their country.

Mr Simons developed a plan to deal with backlogs and the Minister has found him to be very responsive. Unfortunately, some found him not to be. He did not want to “praise a fish for swimming” but he found that Mr Simons brought some fresh air into the Department. If there is any weakness, they will correct it. He did not want anyone to be condemned as that would discourage them. He asked Members to give Mr Simons extra time as he has plans and he has seen the backlog actually moving due to this. The backlog is for those who are appealing because the appeal process in South Africa is unending. People go through a very long appeal process. Appeals are made to statuary bodies and it takes time. Once it is finished, they can go to an open court and open a case from the beginning. These are serious weaknesses that are causing the backlog. The UN has given them R143 million over the next four years to hire 36 lawyers on top of the five that they have currently.

A few Ministers who served under Mugabe are in South Africa applying for asylum. Many of them have been rejected as there is no reason for them to come here. When one asks a Zimbabwean if they are being persecuted, they are surprised. Persecution can sometimes just be an individual's perception or an excuse used to enter South Africa. They go home for visits and nothing happens to them, yet they cry prosecution when they are here. They say they have no family back home, but the Portfolio on Health can show how many people die and are sent back to their homes to be buried. Many of them are buried in their country of origin. Who is burying them if they have no home and no family there? This happens on an almost weekly basis. There is a very big business of transporting bodies out of South Africa.

Law reforms are needed in the country. This has been recommended by the Review Committee led by Dr Lubisi once they saw the manner in which visas are being abused. They recommended that the Department review its immigration laws because there are weak areas, such as giving someone a visa at the age of 60, even though the retirement age in South Africa is around 65. The person they dismissed in the Bushiri case is appealing the dismissal, and the Department cannot interact with the case because it is with the Hawks. It is within the Committee’s right to write to the Hawks. However, he has tried to do so and has been unsuccessful. The Minister met with the head of the Hawks and told him that he was pressured by Parliament to disclose details about how Bushiri escaped. He is adamant that he is not going to release the information to anybody.

The Department intends to track the religious leaders. Most people are difficult to trace once they enter the country, but religious leaders often run churches and so can be tracked down more easily.

Mr Yusuf Simons, Acting Deputy Director-General: Immigration Services, DHA, said previously religious leaders could apply for a work permit or visa and then apply for permanent residency. Visitors visas do not have the option to apply for permanent residency and will remain as temporary residents. These visas are issued for a period of three years maximum and they can be extended.

Discussion: suspensions of senior officials and the implementation plan of the report of the Ministerial Reviewing Committee on permits and visas

Ms van der Merwe thanked the Minister for providing them with an email address that they would be able to use to inform him about their queries. Members work as admin officers because they get so many queries and it becomes overwhelming and one loses track of all the issues that one needs to follow up. She is concerned about the explanation given for visitor visas issued to religious leaders. The visa does not seem to solve any problems. Religious leaders will still be in the country and they will still be making money in some way. This is not a solution. What will be done to ensure that illegal immigrants who run churches, that are already here, apply for the new visa or are deported? How do we ensure that people with false documents are deported or that the documents are removed?

In the presentation, the DG said that one disciplinary hearing had taken seven months and eleven days. It is taking far too long. In May 2020, the Committee was informed of the suspension of the Chief Director of Legal Services.  Was this case ever resolved? They were also told that the process to fill this position was underway. Have all vacant posts in Legal Services been filled? In 2020 the media shared the story of the suspension of Adv Amanda Ledwaba. They were told that they would get a report about her case. Was her case resolved? If not, what has caused the delay? In 2011, the media shared that immigration officers were arrested for extortion. What was the outcome of this case?  The Chief Director of Labour Relations was also suspended last year. How is the Department dealing with discipline in the absence of senior managers employed to manage disciplinary cases in the Department? Maybe that is one reason why these cases take so long to be finalised.

While she supports the Multi-disciplinary Task Team and the Department sourcing those skills, what are the timeframes? How long will it take to source these individuals? They received a report that said up to 40% of permits and visas could be fraudulently obtained. Time is not on their side when dealing with these issues.

Ms Molekwa appreciated that no services were affected by officials being suspended. She asked the Department to put mechanisms in place so that this does not happen again in the future. Matters like this should be treated with a sense of urgency.

Mr Roos said that they all understand that there are people who take a chance with the ZEP. However, there is a danger in treating everyone as one and the same. The Minister said that ZEP holders re-avail themselves and go back to Zimbabwe. Are there any statistics on this? Do suspended officials have to pay back any perks or bonuses if they are found guilty? Given that the Chief Director of Permitting was in a very senior position and abused his powers, has he been implicated in the permit investigation? Is he part of the 25 cases? The report stated that a criminal syndicate is running inside permitting. They are still there today. Given the poor procurement record of Home Affairs, what is the deadline for resolving these 25 cases? How long is it going to take to procure these services? There were serious IT and procedural breaches that allowed this to take place. For example, the deletion of logs which means that no one can see who made a particular change. To what extent is this being directly addressed? Are any IT security systems being implemented to stop this from happening? Can the single entity review system, designed by the review committee, be used by the Department until the integrated systems are fully functional? It appears that there were issues identified by internal audit concerning these permits, and these issues were still outstanding once the review was done and the findings took place. How, if at all, are managers and supervisors being held accountable for deliberately brushing off these audit findings and recommendations? Every year they look at their internal audit findings and recommendations of the Committees and it comes back the same year after year. Are there any consequences for certain audit findings not being implemented?

Mr Pillay said that his previous question about IT security was not adequately addressed. What is being done to address IT system security, particularly when issues relating to permit and visa fraud are done via the IT system? He suggested re-introducing the query spreadsheet. This tracked when queries have been logged and finalised, and which queries are still pending. It will allow them to see which questions are taking a long time to answer and deal with this issue. They should also create a case spreadsheet. It is important to protect the Chairperson. Earlier in the meeting, the Chairperson had raised concerns about communication and acknowledgements. The only reason he raised it was because he has actually experienced these issues. It is important for the Minister to address those issues, particularly with the DDGs and senior officials. They must recognise that the issues that the Chairperson raised are very important, particularly when it comes to communication. As Members, they receive questions from the public and if they don’t respond, they are seen as ignoring them. Members must also be acknowledged and respected when writing to senior officials.

Mr Makhode replied that they would pay attention to the issue of queries in the future. They do have officials who are assigned to answer queries and if they get the latest spreadsheet, they will be able to work with the Committee Secretary to address this issue. They now have a team that checks not only the court cases but all of the applications, including the accumulated backlog. Some of the queries might be related to the backlog that the Minister spoke about. They do have a plan in place to deal with this backlog. They have also brought in colleagues from provinces to assist with the visa backlog. By the end of September, they will have attended to the bulk of it, mainly the matters which relate to business visas.

The suspension of Adv Ledwaba is addressed on slide 23. This is the pre-dismissal matter. It is scheduled to proceed the next day and they hope that this time around, the matter will be finalised. The suspension of the Chief Director of Legal Services is under review and is addressed on slide 23. It is currently under review at the Labour Court. Level 15 on the slide addresses the DDG that was suspended, level 14 is the Chief Director of HR and level 13 is for the HR Director.

There was very little movement on cases for a long time, to the extent that the Department had to put pressure on them to pick up the pace. The cases against the DDG, the Chief Director and the Director took very slow. In some instances, it resulted in litigation in which the Department suffered financial losses. They now have around 50 labour practitioners trained to handle matters around grievances and disciplinary procedures. In addition, they now have a quicker turnaround time and officials have a way to respond to the questions that are asked of them more quickly. They now have 18 officials assigned to deal with these matters, which is why one of the dismissals under level 14 was very quick. They hope to conclude the cases involving the DDG, Chief Director and Director by the end of September, October and November, respectively.

Following the recommendations by Dr Lubisi, they had to make sure that everyone that is using the system is accounted for and everyone had to reapply to gain access to the system. Through this, they are able to monitor any breaches. Daily reports are now sent. These reports contain who has logged on and what applications they processed daily. They also instructed counter-corruption to play an active role in looking at these reports to see if there is any irregular activity. The system has limited access. They do not pay bonuses to any people who are under suspension. They are acting on those who are responsible for acts of irregular expenditure, which is why the Chief Director who was responsible for IT was dismissed last month.

Mr Thulani Mavuso, DDG: Institutional Planning & Support, DHA, said that when they implemented the contact centre, one of the systems that they brought on board was the CRM which is a customer relationship management system. The queries are logged and they are able to tag their lifecycle until completion. He invited Mr Roos to get a first-hand experience of the contact centre. There is a team under civic services which looks at performance monitoring. Daily, they track transactions and create an exemption report. An exemption report will include those who log in after hours. They then check who logs in after hours and see what they are doing. This information is shared daily with counter corruption and is checked.

Mr Gordon Hollamby, DDG: Finance, DHA, said they are treating internal audit findings like AG findings. They have developed audit action plans for all internal audit findings. The visa adjudication system and IT findings are addressed in the audit action plan for the upcoming financial year. They trust that these findings will not reoccur. The Minister has indicated that a deep dive is necessary in respect of the visa adjudication system findings and they do not have the necessary skills to do this in-house. They will bring these skills in to ensure that these findings are properly investigated, responsible people are held accountable, and system defects are addressed.

Ms Tampane Molefe-Sefanyetso, Acting DDG: Human Resource Management and Development, DHA, clarified that while staff are on suspension, they do not receive any performance bonuses. However, they receive a service bonus linked to their salaries. They will not be eligible for anything else that is linked to bonuses.

Minister Motsoaledi noted that Ms van der Merwe is not satisfied with the three-year work permit that religious leaders can apply for. The good thing about the permit is that they won’t have a way to get permanent residence. Some of them come in to marry people illegally. This is a fraudulent marriage between a South African citizen and a foreign national, done by a religious leader from another country. In the Marriage Act, which is about to arrive in Parliament, they are withdrawing the law so that a couple can only be married by a South African. They are trying to remove incentives for people to come in and run religious activities in the country when there are so many religious leaders who are South African citizens. They are also overhauling the Immigration Act, which will also include this matter. Home Affairs does deport people who are found with fake documents. Once these documents are found to be fake, the person is automatically in the country illegally.

The legal situation in South Africa is very difficult and sometimes it is better not to mention people’s names as their cases are still active. They only mention names once the processes are over, as they did with the Chief Director who gave Bushiri his documents. The courts can be very heavy on them, such as giving people bail who don’t deserve it. That is why they do not mention names and the presentation does not include any names. They do not want a situation where they release a name and that person’s matters are delayed in court. On the matter of the GPW, he had mentioned somebody’s name in the briefing to the Committee. He was accused of defamation of character. So now, they try to avoid this. The immigration officer arrested in one of the cases is actually the sister of the person currently involved in pre-dismissal. She has since resigned and the criminal case is with the Hawks. On 24 August, a media statement was issued from the Hawks about the immigration officials in Mpumalanga. Two suspects were sentenced for blackmailing foreign nationals into giving them money. They each got a sentence of eight years. They are mentioning names now because the case is over.

Labour relations and the work of the Department are actually moving much faster in the absence of the Chief Director, the Director, and the DDG. They are charging them for dereliction of duty and negligence. There were a number of cases that should have gone through but didn’t because of these individuals. Just because officials are suspended does not mean that the Department loses its ability to work. In some cases, it is better because they interfere in the process.

Many of Mr Roos’s questions concern the cases under investigation, so he cannot answer them now.

A few days ago, there was a headline claiming that the Department was making a U-turn on the issue of delegations in its foreign missions. People have complained about this, But the Department is not making a U-turn. It was part of their plan. He gets tired of dealing with newspapers because they are struggling to sell so they come up with sensational headlines. Earlier this year, their internal audit showed that some of the findings by Dr Lubisi’s team had also been picked up by their internal audit processes. They discovered that the people employed in missions are doing some questionable things, like giving retirement visas to 16-year-olds and people arriving in South Africa with permanent residency papers. The issues with IT security played a role in this. In response to this, they centralised the powers. They also implemented mechanisms during this period, such as everybody having to reapply for access to the IT system. People were given limitations on what they could and could not do on the system. The areas where the missions were were divided into six regions and an official was put in charge of each region to see what applications were being made.

He announced a few weeks ago that they are taking away the privilege of collecting a passport from any office. People can now only collect their passport in the office where they applied for it, and can’t send a third party to collect it. The passport can only be activated on collection, with a fingerprint.

Even though they are busy putting together a Multi-disciplinary Team, they are doing some of the work themselves. For example, they have been accused of a U-turn, but they actually just needed six months to create methods that will discourage foreign officers from corruption. They have taken away the ability of foreign officers to grant permanent residence and retirement visas. They are no longer done in the missions. They did not make a U-turn; they were putting mechanisms in place to stop people from committing fraud.

The Chairperson thanked the Minister, Deputy Minister, and their team. He noted the legal processes that are underway. He also took note of the Minister’s response about the communication weaknesses he raised on behalf of Members. He thanked the Minister for how he responded as it will improve the work of the Committee and the Department. Two years ago, a DDG was not helping the Committee with their enquiries and the Members raised concerns. The raising of these concerns helped both the Committee and the Department to improve their communication. This official was able to improve. There is no need to defend a wrong attitude; it must simply be noted and corrected. They know Mr Simons’ good work from when he was a Provincial Manager in the Western Cape. They are not raising this matter to demoralise him or any other officials. They are raising this matter because there is an issue. There are only two platforms on which they can interact with the Minister and the Department – this platform and Parliament. He raised the issue objectively. When officials are doing good work, they must appreciate it. They are not ignoring his good work, they know that he has done good work. Citizens and Members have queries and they need to be answered. The Director General has also made this commitment. Ms Khanyile has been raising issues regarding the ZEP for some time and has not received clarity because of poor communication. Today’s meeting provided clarity and a chance to commit to communicating on what is happening in the Department.

The meeting was adjourned.

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