ATC171017: Report of the Oversight Visit by the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to Eastern Cape Province, dated 17 October 2017
Report of the Oversight Visit by the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to Eastern Cape Province, dated 17 October 2017
The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs having conducted an oversight visit to Sterkspruit and surrounding areas in the Eastern Cape from 1 – 4 August 2017, reports as follows:
- The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs (the Committee) conducted an oversight visit to the Eastern Cape Province from 1 – 4 August 2017. The Committee exercises oversight over the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), the Government Printing Works (GPW) and the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC). The oversight was conducted due to complain of undocumented children and in part based on a complaint made by Mr Sono, a community member, who alleged that the DHA officials at Sterkspruit were ill-treating people who come for services. While in that area, the Community had a meeting with the DHA Stakeholder Forum, the Senqu Local Municipality, Walter Sisulu Local Municipality, a public meeting at Gcina Village, visited the Burgersdorp Small office, the Aliwal North Medium Office, Telle Bridge Port of Entry between South Africa and Lesotho and Mpilisweni Hospital.
- A week prior to the oversight visit by the Committee, there was a service delivery protest in Sterkspruit in part as a result of the closure of the DHA office and the lack of doctors at Mpilisweni Hospital. The protest was resolved by the provincial government.
- During its meetings at Sterkspruit and Burgersdorp, the delegation was welcomed by the local leadership. Some of the leadership in Sterkspruit accompanied the delegation to the public meeting at Gcina Village.
1.4. Delegation-The delegation comprised of the following:
African National Congress (ANC)
- Mr BL Mashile
- Ms NA Mnisi
- Mrs TE Kenye
- Ms DD Raphuti
Democratic Alliance (DA)
- Mr AM Figlan
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)
- Ms HO Hlophe
- Briefing Session by the Provincial Office at the Bensonville College
- The Committee met with the DHA, the Senqu Local Municipality, DHA Stakeholder Forum and members of the Community at the Bensonville College Auditorium. A moment of silence was observed and the Mayor of Senqu Local Municipality welcomed the delegation. Members of the council present were introduced. The delegation from the Committee, DHA officials, DHA Stakeholder Forum and members of the Community then introduced themselves.
- It was reported that the Municipality is predominantly rural. The municipality is one of the better performing municipalities in the Eastern Cape and the country. The DHA is performing well despite the challenge with the closure of the DHA offices in Sterkspruit by the Department of Labour (DoL). The DoL closed the office due to it not being suitable to work or to offer services in terms of labour regulations. The DHA also needed a bigger office and the decision to close the DHA offices was communicated to all 17 wards in the municipality. The Municipality indicated that it had done all that it could to assist the DHA to secure a conducive office space.
- While the offices had been closed, the DHA allocated a mobile office and the community was still receiving services. The Senqu Local Municipality is committed to service the community and reported that the DHA cooperated and always attended the municipality Integrated Development Plans (IDP) meetings.
- The Chairperson of the Committee indicated that it had been planning to come to Sterkspruit as early as 2015 because of the reports of undocumented people, especially children, whose parents were either both foreign nationals or one was a South African national. He further reported that Mr Sono has been writing letters to everybody including the Committee complaining about the poor services offered by the DHA in Sterkspruit.
- The Chairperson requested that the former District Manager Operations (DMO) of the DHA report on what had caused the problems in Sterkspruit. The former DMO reported that there were problems in the past around customer service in Sterkspruit. She reported that people were used to receiving services from private homes and businesses like funeral parlours which had in the past administered certain application forms. Given that Sterkspruit is close to the Lesotho border, the DoE was admitting children from Lesotho into South African schools without proper documentation. The DHA has an interaction with the DoE regarding this issue.
- The DHA had problems with traditional leaders confirming Lesotho nationals that are South Africans following improper procedures. She further reported that in instances where the mother of the child would be from Lesotho and the father is a South African, there was need to confirm the paternity of the child and the father would refuse. There is situation where both parents are from Lesotho and the DHA would issue a handwritten birth certificate. Paternity tests are done in East London and cost R700 per test which many people cannot afford. The reason to conduct a paternity test is to prevent people ‘renting’ fathers to register children so that the children could acquire South African citizenship.
- She also reported that there is a culture of renting South African Identity Documents to foreign nationals, particularly from Lesotho to register their children. The DHA introduced the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP) and the DHA invited the Lesotho DHA to Sterkspruit to assist their nationals with the documentation. The DHA also did Late Registration of Births (LRB) and it was found that many applicants have duplicate documents because they have acquired South African documents fraudulently.
- Mpilisweni Hospital in Sterkspruit did not have access to a network point until recently to register births within 30 days after births as required by the law. This also resulted in many children without documentation, hence, the LRB project found that many people registered births late.
- The DoL closed the DHA offices and the DHA has been interacting with the Department of Public Works (DPW) to acquire office space and were not happy with DPW progress. After the closure of the DHA offices, the DHA provided the community with a mobile office. The first mobile office which was deployed had network problems but the second mobile office is functioning. It was providing services such as births registration, ID books applications and death registration but not marriage and passports which are done at the Aliwal North Medium Office.
- The first office space which was identified for DHA was given to a medical doctor by the landlord. There DHA and DPW were not given reasons why it was given to the medical doctor and the second office space was identified and the lease agreement had been signed with the landlord. The DHA will move to the office as soon as the necessary renovations have been completed to the DHA standard.
2.11. The Former DMO reported that Mr Sono is complaining because he wants the community to continue to come through him to access services at the DHA offices. He was shown to have been charged with assisting Lesotho nationals to acquire SA documents fraudulently. It was reported that a fraud case was opened against him at the Sterkspruit Police Station in 2010. Although there is a DHA Stakeholder Forum, where the Speaker of the Municipality has deployed someone to be the Chairperson, Mr Sono does not work through the forum. At the time when he was a traditional councillor and he did not refer the issues to the Forum. There was an issue of discrimination against people who worked at DHA offices that were not from Sterkspruit.
2.12. The DHA has an agreement to work with DoE to attend to issues of children without documentation in schools.
2.13. Mr Sono was in attendance of the meeting and he was given an opportunity to respond to the allegations levelled against him. He indicated that he was still a traditional councillor and that the former DMO and the office Manager at Sterkspruit office had been difficult to work with. He alleged that people were turned without receiving services at the DHA offices in Sterkspruit. When he intervened, the officials at DHA offices in Sterkspruit wanted to assault him. People were told to go to Aliwal North for DHA services which cost the applicants about R140 for a return fare. The DHA only accepts applications for passports on Thursdays and according to him it was not fair because people have to travel long distances to Aliwal North Medium Office. He alleged that there was maladministration in the office because they are not transparent. He suggested that the office needs new staff.
2.14. The Chairperson of the DHA Stakeholder Forum confirmed what the former DMO reported about the behaviour of Mr Sono. He had many engagements with Mr Sono regarding his character and the DHA even sent the Deputy Director General for Civic Service and the Provincial Manager to resolve his issues. The traditional leader of Gcina Village, from where Mr Sono hails; was in attendance at the meeting. The Provincial Manager indicated that the traditional leader was not happy with the way Mr Sono conducted himself and had disowned him as his representative. It was indicated to Mr Sono that he should only come the DHA offices for his own issues and not those of other people. The Chairperson of the Stakeholder Forum further indicated the DHA does not have immigration officers even though it was close to Lesotho.
2.15. Members of the Community who were in the meeting engaged with the Committee and were concerned that the notice by the DoL was issued in 2012 and the DHA did not do anything to address it. The DHA’s response was that it was true that the notice was issued in 2012 but it had engaged with the DPW to secure another office. There was a tender issued by DPW but there was no response by prospective landlords. The DHA indicated that they communicated about the closure of the office to the community. This was confirmed by the Chairperson of the DHA Stakeholder Forum, who said the communication was done through the community radio station. The Provincial Manager also reported that DHA was called to account on the closure of the office by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and that a new office has been sourced and funds committed. The new office will have a Live Capture and people would be able to apply for passports and Smart ID Cards. The office manager has been communicating with the community. The mobile office has been assigned to Sterkspruit and it is closer to the old office which had been closed, so people continue to receive the service. The Mpilisweni Hospital was also providing services to register births and deaths.
2.16. The Committee was concerned with the shortage of staff and lack of office accommodation. The Committee appreciated that the DHA was able to provide the community with a mobile office. Sterkspruit is cross-border community and the Committee was concerned that there was no immigration inspectorate. The Office in Sterkspruit and Aliwal North do not have enough vehicles in order for the staff to do their work. There are two vehicles which had been loaned from Queenstown Large Office and Mount Fletcher Medium Office and one mobile office with a staff complement of 5 people at Sterkspruit to service a population of approximately 134 150 people.
2.17 The Committee was also concerned that children have been removed from schools because of a lack of proper documentation. The Committee enquired from Mr Sono of the whereabouts of the parents of the children who wanted documentation from DHA through him and he was unable to answer them. The Committee indicated to him that the Committee did not want to perpetuate fraud.
- Community Meeting at Gcina Village outside of the Sterkspruit
- The Chairperson of the DHA Stakeholder Forum was the Programme Director of the public meeting at Gcina Village. This is the village where Mr Sono comes from. The meeting was opened with a prayer and the Induna of the village welcomed the delegation. There were approximately 125 community members in attendance of the meeting.
- The Chairperson of the Committee gave the background about the purpose of the visit and the meeting. The issues included the registration of undocumented foreign nationals, particularly those who are from Lesotho and the closure of the DHA offices in Sterkspruit and how the community see the work of the DHA in area. Before engaging with the community, the Chairperson of the Committee introduced the delegation from Parliament and the DHA.
- The engagement with the community took the form of people asking questions and raising concerns to the delegation and the DHA officials in relation to Home Affairs matters. Some of the issues raised by the community included the following:
- A member of the community went to Sterkspruit office to apply for a child’s birth certificate and she was told to go to Aliwal North for the application because the office was closed. She indicated that the mother of the child is from Lesotho. She did not have transport money to travel to Aliwal North to apply.
- It was also alleged that the DHA issued identification documents to people from Lesotho and that schools from other provinces issued letters that children from Lesotho are South African citizens and that they should be issued with documentation. There are instances where the DHA does not issue births certificates because the mother is from Lesotho and the father is South African. The DHA requires paternity to confirm whether the man is the father of the child. Again the cost of the test and transport to East London was raised. The community requested that it would be really helpful if a doctor could come to Sterkspruit on specific dates to conduct paternity tests. The DHA should also conduct a community outreach programme to raise awareness on birth certificates application requirements for children born of foreign parents.
- It was also alleged that there is a place in the village where identification documents could be applied for.
- The community acknowledged that the DHA offices in Sterkspruit has improved its services in the last three to four years. The DHA Stakeholder Forum should come to the people because the closure of the office was only communicated through social media. There was claim that the Senqu Local Municipality does not come to the people to explain the changes that were happening and this was refuted by the councillors in the meeting. The councillors reported in the meeting that there were various meetings held with the community and the community was informed about the closure of the DHA office in Sterkspruit.
- There was an allegation that the DHA office in Sterkspruit does not care and it was claimed that the officials do not work after 14:00 because they fetch their children from school and neglect services. It was further alleged that all government departments at Sterkspruit do not provide services as they should after 14:00. The DHA officials do not care about the elderly and the community indicated they rather wanted local people to be employed.
- The surnames of the local people were reported to have been written incorrectly. The surnames of the South Africans and the Lesotho nationals are mostly the same but spelt differently. There are instances where South Africans are turned back from the DHA offices because the surnames sound like a Sotho surname.
- The Chairperson of the Mpilisweni Board indicated to the community that they should apply for births and deaths certificates at the hospital DHA office.
- There was an allegation that the traditional leader does not confirm some people who want papers to apply at the DHA. He will tell them that he does not know them.
- The Deputy Director-General of the DHA indicated that the DHA have heard the concerns of the community and will try to resolve some of the challenges. He indicated that children born of foreign parents are issued with hand written birth certificates.
- The late registration of births, marriage and passports cannot be done at the mobile offices and people would be requested to receive these services at the Aliwal North office while the renovations of the new office were being attended to. The offices of the DHA are open from 8:00 until 16:00 and people who are inside the offices at closing should be assisted. The DHA will deal with officials who are not doing their work after 14:00.
- In cases where members of the public are not assisted, the officials have nametags and there are cellphone numbers of the officials at the head office and the province in all DHA offices. Members of the community are requested to phone if they do not receive the service required from DHA offices.
- The former DMO indicated that the law requires that births should be registered within 30 days to avoid problems that were raised by members of the community and Mpilisweni hospital is able to register births. DHA is working with the DoE to ensure that all children have documentation.
- She alleged that some councillors, school principals and traditional leaders help foreign nationals to acquire South African identity documents fraudulently and this is wrong.
- Burgersdorp Small Office
- The Committee travelled to Burgersdorp in Walter Sisulu Local Municipality. The Committee was first taken to the old prison where the offices of the DHA was located before it moved to the present building. The prison was really not a suitable venue and as a result the DHA was finally given a new venue by the Municipality.
- The Committee was welcomed by the Mayor of Walter Sisulu Local Municipality at the municipal council building. The Committee felt honoured to be welcomed by the local leadership. An introduction was done and the Mayor indicated that DHA is one of the departments that work very well with the municipality.
- The Mayor reported that issues that concerned the municipality were LRBs because most of the people who are staying in and around Burgersdorp are from farms where there was a need for more mobile offices to visit. The majority of the people in the area depends on social grants. There are other towns such as Jamestown which is 54 kilometres from Aliwal North, Steynsburg which is 70 kilometres from Burgersdorp and Venterstand which is 56 kilometers from Burgersdorp. These towns do not have DHA offices. People in these towns have to travel long distances to access DHA services.
- The Mayor alleged that the challenges faced by the DHA officials was the shortage of immigration officials as well as lack of vehicles and staff. The team from DHA distribute IDs to communities and the big challenge is vehicles, mobile offices and staff. The officials of the DHA are in constant contact with the local leadership.
- The current DHA office has been given to DHA free to use and the Mayor indicated the DHA should consider paying for it because the municipality has debts to pay such as Eskom bills.
4.6. The Provincial Manager in his response indicated that the DHA will broaden its attention to also focus its resources in and around Burgersdorp to help these communities. The DHA, together with the municipality, will also engage with farming associations to ensure that farm workers are provided with the services. He further indicated that the local hospital is connected to register births and deaths. The vastness of the province is a major concern and more mobile offices are needed.
4.7. Although the area is far from border, there are issues of illegal immigrants which is a major concern and the DHA Stakeholder Forum should get involved and special operations were needed.
4.8. The Committee proceeded to the DHA offices in Burgersdorp for a walkabout and it was found that the hall next to the office is dirty. The contractor left pipes and celling boards. The Committee was told that the hall belongs to the DoL and not the DHA, however, the Committee was concerned that this has an impact on the DHA. It was reported that the veranda at the entrance needs to be renovated because when it rains, water gets inside the building. The office provides Live Capture systems and has one photo booth and two counters and a cashier with an electronic pay point. The office of the manager is also used for marriages. The office has five officials and one intern.
- Aliwal North Medium Office
5.1. The Portfolio Committee then visited the Aliwal North Medium office. The office has two vehicles and one has been allocated to the Regional Information Technology Officer for the District.
5.2. LRBs, marriages and Smart ID card applications are done at the office as well as the distribution of the cards to applicants.
5.3. The office has a Live Capture system with three computers, a queue management screen, and a photo booth that service about 28 – 30 people per day by 11 officials
5.4. The ceiling was damaged in one of the offices and has not been repaired and it was confirmed that the office had also been ordered to close by the DoL.
- Telle Bridge Port of Entry
- A presentation on Immigration was done at Bensonville College Auditorium. The Telle Bridge Port of Entry facilitates the movement of people between South Africa and Lesotho and the port is situated near Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape.
- The Port has four officials, namely the Port Manager, three officials and one cleaner. The operating hours are 6:00 until 22:00.
- The Committee conducted a walkabout at the Telle Bridge between South Africa and Lesotho. The port of entry has two departments, namely the DHA and the South African Police Service (SAPS). The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) patrol the borderline.
- The departure and admission is one office and it is done by only one person, however, there are four computers. The departure and admission are not demarcated. It was reported that two computers are used for arrivals and one for Departure and the fourth one has Movement Control Legacy System. It was indicated that in 2016 there were approximately 262 295 persons who passed through this port of entry.
- It was reported that there are Lesotho nationals who give birth in South Africa and come back to Lesotho without birth certificates. The DHA officials reported that they interrogate persons with a child who do not have births certificates and if officials are satisfied with the explanation they let them go through to Lesotho. This is contrary to both immigration and counter trafficking legislation.
- The top ten nationalities that pass through this port of entry are from Lesotho, South Africa, Zimbabwe, China, Germany, Bangladesh, United Kingdom, United States of America, Netherlands and France.
- It was reported that the challenges that faced this port of entry are shortage of staff, insufficient administrative capacity, corruption, informal crossings and lack of infrastructure.
- It was further reported that Lesotho identifies the child through the father while in South Africa it is through the mother, which makes it difficult if the father or an uncle passes through the border with the child without a birth certificate. The citizens of Lesotho and South Africa in the border villages and further afield both have relatives in each country.
- Mpilisweni Hospital
- The Committee visited the hospital where births and deaths are registered. It was reported that the DHA is using the Department of Health (DoH) network for connectivity to register births and deaths. It was confirmed to the Committee that the system is secure and no one except the officials of DHA have access to the system through the use of fingerprints and the cards.
- The DHA has only one computer and it was confirmed that if the computer is not working, the DHA will replace it within as short as an hour.
- The DHA official goes to the maternity wards to get information on mothers that are to be
discharged to ensure that their births are registered. The office is however far from the maternity ward.
- It was reported that for abandoned children at the hospital; social workers get involved and they assist with their births being registered. The children born from foreign parents are issued with a hand written certificates. Children born to a foreign and South African father require a paternity test to be conducted if they are not present at birth. The DHA gives them referral letters to go to East London to conduct the test. The R700 cost is in fact already subsidised and usually cost more than double this amount. It takes about a week to get the results back. The DHA cancels the hand written certificates once it has been confirmed that one of the parents is a South African citizen and a computerized certificate is issued.
- Observations by the Committee
While on the oversight the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs observed the following:
- There was a good relationship between DHA in Sterkspruit and the municipality.
- The DHA in Sterkspruit does not have immigration inspectorate, although the area is closer to the border with Lesotho.
- The DHA office in Sterkspruit was closed by the DoL due to unsuitable working conditions but the DHA made provision of mobile office for the community to continue getting services.
- The DPW did not help the DHA for several years when it was given a notice to close in 2012 by the DoL.
- What the Committee heard about the conduct of the DHA officials contradicted what Mr Sono wrote to the Committee and not attending the public meeting at Gcina village heightened suspicions on his credibility.
- The DHA Stakeholder Forum is headed by a councillor and that at times could alienate some people who wanted to get involved given the political orientation.
- There were people who were alleged to ‘renting out’ their identity documents in order for others to register children as South African and access services that are meant for citizens.
- There are Lesotho nationals who are alleged to paying South Africans to register children in order to access the documentation. The paternity test required by the DHA to confirm if a man is a father are prohibitively expensive. The majority of the people in the area rely on social grants and cannot afford the amount and the transport cost.
- Committee members witnessed people from Lesotho walking in plain sight with containers of fuel being apprehended by SANDF; they were merely sent back across the border without further procedure. The committee expressed concern at the lack of fencing and apparent disregard for the border
- Jamestown, Steynsburg and Venterstand are far from services of DHA.
- There is good relationship between DHA and Walter Sisulu Local Municipality.
- The DHA is not paying for the office space in Burgersdorp.
- The area around Burgersdorp was vast and rural farms and most people in area find it difficult to get services from DHA.
- School children from Lesotho commute daily to school in RSA across the border.
Based on the oversight visit by the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to Sterkspruit and surroundings, the Committee recommends to the Minister of Home Affairs the following:
- The DHA should consider deploying more Immigration Inspectorate in and around Sterkspruit to deal with the undocumented foreign nationals.
- The DPW should expedite getting office space on behalf of the DHA.
- In instances where the DHA office is closed by the DoL, the DHA should immediately deploy mobile offices so that services to the community are not interrupted.
- The DHA should encourage community members to work through the DHA Stakeholder Forum.
- The issue of fraudulent documents for foreign nationals should be dealt with by the DHA and the DHA Stakeholder Forum.
- DHA Stakeholder forums should not be headed by persons holding political office.
- The DHA should consider to negotiate with the DoH to come from East London on specific dates to conduct several paternity tests given the distances from rural areas.
- The DHA should have scheduled deployment of mobile offices to Jamestown, Steynsburg and Venterstand where there are no DHA offices and arrange scheduled visits to farms to provide services.
- The issue of recommendation letters by tribal chiefs for land acquisition and school principals for school registration to be referred to PC: Cooperate Governance and Traditional Affairs, PC Rural Development and PC: Basic Education for consideration.
- The DHA should negotiate and motivate for expanded office space in Burgersdorp and strengthen the office security.
- Hospitals should include DHA in their discharge checklist for births registration as part of their procedures.
- DHA should embark on a vigorous awareness campaign on the impact of renting out their identity documents.
- DHA should negotiate on the exemption of paternity test costs for the indigent.
Report to be considered
Mr BL Mashile Date
Chairperson: PC on Home Affairs
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