During a debate on the Department of Home Affairs budget vote in the National Assembly yesterday, the Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, said immigration has played a role in South Africa’s economic success. Nonetheless, to fortify South African borders, the department has dispatched 200 trained border guards to monitor all ports of entry and 400 more would be recruited to strengthen the critical mandate of the Border Management Authority (BMA).

He was pleased to say that since 1 April 2023, the BMA has been an autonomous entity and 1 500 employees will be transferred from the departments of health, agriculture, environment and immigration services to serve in the BMA. It is hoped, he added, that the BMA will in the long term provide further impetus to the African Union’s Africa free trade zones.

The minister also reported that efforts to modernise South Africa’s visa regime into an e-visa system is well under way. In the meantime, he said: “We will roll-out tourism visas to attract investment. This will be coupled to an e-visa for study and general work permits and all will be available on the e-visa system.”

Speaking about changes to the electoral laws, which for the first time allow individuals to contest elections as independent candidates, he noted this is not about translating votes into seats in legislative chambers. Rather, the amendment seeks to redefine the process of political mandate and accountability.

The Minister also spoke about the long queues in Home Affairs offices, an inconvenience he blamed on load-shedding and an unreliable electronic system. “While we have invested R400 million for the State Information Technology Agency to refresh its network that we rely on, we have also engaged the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to come up with short and long-term solutions to our network capacity challenges.”

He also reported that 120 mobile Home Affairs offices have been rolled out in rural areas and 100 more have been ordered. The department’s goal is to have 1 000 of these mobile offices. As part of its modernisation processes, the department is set to digitise well over 350 million records, including identity documents, birth and death certificates and passports. This process is expected to create much-needed employment for new graduates.

The minister conceded that to assist in South Africa’s efforts to control migration, a raft of legislation underpinning South Africa’s immigration policy framework will be repealed. This will set a high standard for the approval of immigration, refugee protection and the provision of citizenship.

Also speaking in the debate, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, Mr Mosa Chabane, welcomed the increase of the department's budget to R10.8 billion in this financial year which will go a long way to modernise and advance its services to ensure that they are fast and efficient.

However, concerns remain about delays in implementing the automated biometric identification system, which has had a negative impact on fighting crime. Furthermore, the allocation of R1.3 billion for BMA is insufficient to execute its work and more funds are required to ensure our points of entry are secure. He is also concerned about the Auditor-General’s findings on the Government Printing Works and called for the department’s policy and legislative frameworks to be revived so that it can meet its mandates.

Ms Thembisile Khanyile of the Democratic Alliance who participated in the debate said the perpetual failure of the Home Affairs offices’ electronic network needed to be addressed urgently. “We welcomed the department's online booking system, but its network issues have crippled this idea as a result. This has put Home Affairs officials at risk of being physically abused whenever they inform people of this.”

.“We urge the department to introduce an attendance register of those in queue, have a queue marshal and system that issue people with numbers to ensure that no one skips the queue.” She added: “We make this suggestion because we have been informed that there are people who exploit this situation, who charge R300 if one wants to skip the queue at the expense of those who can’t pay and who woke up at 3 am in order to be served first.” She urged the minister to address this quagmire.

Abel Mputing

19 May 2023