Let our people be employed in our country - ANC leaders tout foreign hiring restrictions

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi is leading the ANC`s push to restrict the employment of foreign nationals in the province. 

Melinda Stuurman

• The Gauteng premier is leading the ANC`s push to restrict the employment of foreign nationals in the province as the youth unemployment crisis seems to have defeated the ANC. 

• Panyaza Lesufi and ANC provincial secretary TK Nciza said the time had come for local citizens to be given priority in employment by private businesses. 

• Immigration experts have warned against this political rhetoric, saying it was dangerous and was only used as an excuse to mask the failures of the ANC governance.

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi wants to restrict the number of foreign nationals employed by businesses in Gauteng to put a dent in worrying unemployment figures. 

Lesufi and Gauteng ANC provincial secretary TK Nciza proposed the plan to restrict how many foreign nationals can be employed, saying it was time for local citizens to be given priority in the country`s economic hub. 

“We are saying there must be a quota on employing locals. Everybody sits and looks to the government for employment. We are calling on the private sector to start employing locals, and we must agree on a quota. We must have a quota, and we will start in Gauteng. It is time. 

`You go to a restaurant, and you hardly come across a South African. I was impressed [by] one restaurant in Durban [where] everyone was South African. We have [a] serious issue of unemployment, and the youth are not working. We are not saying people must be xenophobic, we are saying let`s have a quota and let our people be employed in their own country,` Nciza said on Thursday at the ANC Gauteng press briefing. 

Immigration experts have warned that this political rhetoric so close to elections threatens foreign nationals. 

They said the ANC was relying on right-wing populist messaging to lure support ahead of elections in a context where the party`s track record in governance had failed to produce a strong economy that could enable employment. 

But the ANC provincial leaders dug in, saying South African businesses should employ South Africans. 

`We have a private sector that is not coming to the party. We are calling upon them to start employing South Africans and let`s agree on a quota, and we will engage ...,` Nciza said. 

The rhetoric to target foreign nationals comes months ahead of crucial elections for the ANC, where the party faces losing control of Gauteng. 

It narrowly held onto the province in 2019, and election experts have warned it may not be able to win a majority in 2024. 

University of Johannesburg`s Professor Trevor Ngwane said policies that aimed to restrict the employment of foreigners would likely affect desperate citizens from South Africa`s neighbouring countries of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho. 

`The divide-and-rule tactics target our SADC neighbours and goes against President Cyril Ramaphosa`s efforts to create and encourage a free-zone movement around the SADC region.  

`This is the same right-wing, xenophobic sentiment that we have seen around the world in populist speeches. The ANC has failed to create jobs as a ruling party, and now it is trying to find scapegoats, playing to the audience, and fanning sentiments of division and hate against our neighbours,` Ngwane said. 

Sharon Ekambaram, head of the refugee and migrants rights programme at Lawyers for Human Rights, shared similar sentiments, saying that targeting foreigners was an effort to scapegoat the failures of governance. 

`The evidence does not support this rhetoric. It is clear that this is scapegoating by the government after failing to ensure basic service delivery to the people.  

`There is no data about the number of migrants that live in Gauteng, let alone in South Africa. We have no capacity to collect this data, provinces are even struggling to budget for basic services because they have no knowledge of how many live in various provinces,` Ekambaram said. 

`They do not have this data, and instead, they blame foreign nationals for every failure even in the provision of health care.”

Ekambaram said Lawyers for Human Rights had successfully pointed out the unconstitutionality of a Township Development Bill presented to the Gauteng legislature by the ANC. 

The legislation would have barred foreign nationals from establishing businesses in the province`s townships. The Gauteng government has since amended that section of the bill. 

The concerns about foreign nationals in Gauteng have lingered mainly on the issue of illegal mining. 

When launching the ANC`s manifesto review, Ramaphosa said the government had launched an initiative to identify illegal immigrants.

`We continue to have foreign nationals who do not have documents. A programme has been started to examine who among foreign nationals does not have documents, and a number of them are being arrested.

Ramaphosa said:

Those who do not have permits to be in South Africa better know now that South Africans want this country to be occupied by people who have documents or who are citizens of our country.

The rise in the unemployment rate among young people has added to the woes faced by Lesufi and the ANC as the party aims to remain in charge of the province.

Lesufi conducted a massive employment drive in the province to show that the government was doing something about youth unemployment. 

He promised to advertise thousands of jobs this year until the end of the ANC term in government. 

When he launched his job recruitment programme for 8 000 jobs, 1.2 million young people applied. 

He said, in July, that the figures showed how grave the unemployment crisis was.

Massive visa backlog in South Africa, Home Affairs says it has a plan

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has laid out his department’s plan to tackle the massive visa backlog, saying that it should be cleared by the middle of next year.

At last reporting, the department’s backlog of visa applications waiting to be processed was sitting above 70,000, with alarm bells blaring from businesses and other sectors over the monumental damage these delays were causing the country.

South Africa is sitting with a major skills shortage, and businesses have been beside themselves trying to draw much-needed skills to the country, with efforts blocked and upended by the failures at Home Affairs.

Companies have indicated that it can take up to 48 weeks to have a visa application accepted, threatening expansion plans, investment and jobs in a country where unemployment is running at 33%. 

Immigration specialists like Xpatweb have also flagged an increasing number of cases where applications are rejected for unlawful reasons, with applications then having to go through an appeal process. This results in a huge backlog of appeals at the DHA, leading to further delays.

Responding to a parliamentary Q&A this week, Motsoaledi said that the department has instituted weekly management meetings to monitor turnaround times and performance in clearing the backlog.

He said the department has developed a “backlog eradication plan” which aims to have the backlogs cleared. 

“The plan aims to move the older Temporary Residency Visas applications from 2022 concurrently with the current applications of 2023. This will be done by splitting the temporary residence visa team into two,” he said.

The same approach is being implemented for Permanent Residence Permits, he said.

“The plan includes the utilisation of current capacity in the Immigration Branch supported by the additional officials from other branches, including those in provinces. It also includes those officials who have returned from the Foreign Missions after serving their four-year deployment term.”

Other options to supplement existing capacity and resources are also being looked at and may be implemented should it be deemed necessary to do so to support the eradication plan. 

“The Department is also reviewing the immigration permitting delegations as well as Standard Operating Procedures,” he said.

The department wants to have cleared the backlog by June 2024 for all categories of visas.

Motsoaledi said that in certain cases visa applications are rejected because they are incomplete or missing required documentation. He said that in these cases, the department is unable to assist.

“Once an application is received at Home Affairs it is processed with the documents that were submitted by the applicant. 

“The Department is therefore unable to assist applicants with incomplete documents once an application has been received at the adjudication hub.”

He said a checklist available at the time of application is one tool that assists and guides applicants to submit all required documents.

South African parliamentary delegates briefed on biometric ID card, passport issuance reforms

South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has told delegates of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), the country’s upper chamber of parliament, of the reforms his department his championing to simplify how citizens apply for and obtain ID credentials such as biometric national ID cards and passports.

In a recent question-and-answer session with special delegates of the Peace and Security Cluster 1C of the NCOP, Motsoaledi said digital self-service kiosks installed at some Home Affairs offices to facilitate ID issuance were indeed helping to reduce wait time, according to information published on the parliament website.

Motsoaledi said as part of efforts to curb queues, Homes Affairs is piloting facial recognition self-service kiosks which will be deployed to their offices in all nine of the country’s provinces, while hoping that the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) will also improve its connectivity issues to make service delivery smoother.

“The heart of long queues is the SITA system that is always down. So, in the meantime, we are doing what we can,” said Motsoaledi as quoted.

The government official also explained the functioning of the Branch Appointment Booking System (BAPS) through which ID and passport applicants book appointments for the capture of their biometrics. With the BAPS, users spend less than 15 minutes at Home Affairs offices when seeking services, said Motsoaledi.

Responding to a question from a lawmaker on what Home Affairs has been doing to extend its services to rural and difficult-to-access communities, Motsoaledi said they have been using mobile teams to reach such areas.

Already, 100 mobile teams have been mobilized for that purpose and about 100 more are expected in the near future in order to boost their rural outreach capabilities, he said.

The minister equally briefed the NCOP delegates on the Home Affairs’ digital plan to strengthen and modernize its border management architecture, namely with the deployment of biometrics. The country has a plan to deploy biometrics for passenger checks in all of its airports in a project estimated at $5.2 million.

South Africa recently announced Home Affairs offices were extending their working hours on two weekends to allow more people collect their ID cards and passports ahead of a voter registration activity slated for November 18-19.

Home Affairs interdicted against deportation of foreigner mother

The High Court in Johannesburg has interdicted the Home Affairs Department from deporting th November 2023e mother (“TRS”), who is illegally in South Africa after her spousal visa from a previous marriage expired .

A mother’s bid to permanently relocate to Israel with her two children, with whom she shares joint custody with their father, has been put on hold while a court battle ensues around her looming deportation.

The High Court in Johannesburg has interdicted the Home Affairs Department from deporting the mother (“TRS”), who is illegally in South Africa after her spousal visa from a previous marriage expired .

High Court Judge Stuart Wilson had to interdict her deportation by the department after she was expected to report to its offices on Monday.

According to the judgment, the mother, after her spousal visa expired “unwisely obtained a fraudulent permit on which she relied for some time to remain in the country”.

“She was eventually found out, charged, convicted and is now subject to deportation as an illegal foreigner.

There is no suggestion that the third respondent, the minister, is inclined to revisit TRS’s status as an illegal foreigner, and I must accept, for present purposes, that she is liable to deportation at any time. It appears that the minister has agreed to stay his hand until October 30 (yesterday), but there is no guarantee that TRS will be allowed to remain in South Africa beyond that date,” said Judge Wilson.

The judge said the looming deportation of the mother, who intended to take her two boys with her while having joint custody of them with their father who opposes having them go with her, “is obviously a highly unsatisfactory situation”.

The mother, who holds Israeli and US passports, said she intended to return to Israel where she had “loving and supportive extended family” after experiencing an “emotionally volatile time” in South Africa.

The father, however, opposes her application to permanently relocate, preferring that all three of them remain in the country, but if her application was granted that the children remain.

“The question of whether (the mother) should be permitted to relocate to Israel with the children seems to me to be one of real complexity. As things stand, both she and (the father) play equally important roles in their children’s lives,” said Judge Wilson.

“I have no doubt that each of them has developed a close and loving bond with the children. Whatever happens in this case, the children are likely to suffer some detriment. If the mother leaves with the children, they will lose the closeness of a loving father. If she leaves without the children, they will be separated from their mother.

“At the tender ages of 1 and 3, either of these outcomes could be devastating for them. But just as potentially undesirable is a situation in which the mother remains precariously in South Africa to be with the children, with all the stress that would cause her, and which would likely be transmitted in some way to the children.

“Another possible outcome is that she is given leave by the minister to remain in South Africa permanently, but that she never really settled here, and is left in a state of anguish and resentment as a result. That, too, will clearly affect the children and their well-being,” said the judge.

While litigation in the matter continues, he said as the interdict was interim in nature, it “remained open to the minister or to the fourth respondent, the director-general, to apply to court for appropriate relief in the event that new circumstances arise which justify the interdict’s variation or discharge”

Human rights groups sound alarm at govt`s proposal to audit foreign-owned spaza shops

Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says the government is concerned about the rise in food poisoning incidents. 

• The government wants to audit how many foreign-owned shops are operational in the country.

• It wants to allow traditional leaders to keep a register of foreign nationals present in communities. 

• Lawyers for Human Rights warned the proposal was dangerous because it could fuel xenophobia.

Foreign-owned spaza shops are set to face renewed pressure from the government as traditional leaders and municipalities may soon be expected to conduct audits and keep records of the number of foreign nationals in their communities.

Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said on Monday that Cabinet was concerned about the rise in the number of reports of children being poisoned by consuming allegedly contaminated food from spaza shops, sometimes leading to death.

However, the link between the illness or death of children to food from spaza shops has not yet been proven.

Cabinet`s concerns were qualified during a briefing from a migration workshop, which concluded with outcomes that could spell a contentious time for foreign-owned businesses in townships and rural areas. 

The government wants to introduce `omnibus by-laws` to strengthen the hand of municipalities and traditional leaders in enforcing business by-laws.

It includes the inspection of spaza shops by inspection teams from labour, health, business development and home affairs. 

Another enforcement effort is to audit spaza shops in villages and townships by registering them with municipalities and traditional leaders, Ntshavheni said. 

However, this is being met with extreme concern by human rights groups. 

Lawyers for Human Rights described the announcement as deeply concerning, saying the government was shifting the blame.

Sharon Ekambaram, the head of the refugee and migrants` rights programme at Lawyers for Human Rights, said the proposals were unfairly focused on blaming foreign nationals.

She said it would reinforce the growing hostility against a minority. 

Ekambaram told News24: 

Where is the evidence and proof that all of the people who run spaza shops are undocumented [immigrants] or that they do not have the permits to run these businesses? Once again, this shows that the government`s stance is based on unsubstantiated [assumptions]. The fewer than two million foreign nationals present in our country cannot be the source of the ills we face as a country.

`There should be standards for everyone to comply. It can`t be only for foreign nationals. We can`t have laws that simply target them because that is racist and xenophobic, and goes against our constitutional values. Laws and concerns around the selling of expired food should be a concern for every business, even supermarkets, not just foreign-owned spaza shops.`

Ekambaram added that it was illegal to allow traditional leaders to keep lists of foreigners, and several court judgments had pointed to its illegality. 

She described it as akin to the apartheid government keeping a record of black people during apartheid. 

`It is categorically illegal, and there have been judgments handed down where you can`t even go and close off a community or go door-to-door asking people. It is unconstitutional to do that. The danger of this is that, tomorrow, it will give traditional leaders the same powers to keep an eye on ethnic groups. 

`Our Constitution and the Bill of Rights are very clear on the rights of everyone living in our country. You cannot just keep lists of people,` Ekambaram said. 

Meanwhile, the Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA welcomed the strengthening of traditional leaders` powers.

Its representative, Zolani Mkiva, described the proposals as `progressive`. 

`Traditional leaders have to be at the forefront of ensuring that their people are protected,` Mkiva said. 

On whether such targeted proposals were xenophobic, Mkiva said all businesses must be registered to enable a swift accounting mechanism when there were reports of deaths because of expired food.  

He said: 

All businesses should register, and there is nothing discriminatory about that. If a South African is selling expired food, he is actually selling poison, so all spaza shops must be registered and monitored. The issue of the legality is a subjective notion because, if people are doing wrong things with the idea that the law protects them, that law is wrong. 

An Eastern Cape shop owner told News24 he was worried about all spaza shop owners being tagged as sellers of expired products.

Alex (who would only provide his first name), who is originally from Ethiopia, and has lived in South Africa for nine years, said he had a permit.

He found it unacceptable that some vendors were selling expired goods to consumers.

`I do not sell expired food. I throw away food that is not in good condition. It is not right to sell people expired food. My stock is kept up to date and I have a permit,` Alex said.

He added that he was not against legislation to control food safety, but he was worried about the unintended effects this could have on the movement of foreign nationals. 

In the meantime, the ANC recently echoed the political rhetoric of clamping down on foreign nationals in Gauteng, with the party`s leadership proposing restrictions on how many foreign nationals could be employed at one business in the province. 

ANC Gauteng leaders Panyaza Lesufi and TK Nciza said the party was concerned about unemployment levels in the province, and the proposed restrictions were seen as a move to strengthen the opportunities available to South Africans.