Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi has determined to terminate Zimbabwean Exemption Permits forthwith. This is the desperate act of a panicked government.
The ANC knows it is in trouble. Voters are facing unprecedented load-shedding, unprecedented fuel prices, unprecedented unemployment, and unprecedented price inflation.
Everything that the government could destroy has been destroyed. The housing build programme for the poor has ground to a halt. Water treatment and sewerage plants are failing. Hospitals – except in the DA-run Western Cape – are dangerously dilapidated, under-equipped, under-staffed and under-resourced.
The draconian Covid-19 lockdowns did nothing to halt the spread of the pandemic, but it destroyed private sector jobs and businesses on an epic scale.
The economic destruction was already ongoing when the pandemic struck, however. Anti-growth policies, bureaucratic red tape, and kleptocratic government combined to smother the economy.
The country has deindustrialised to such an extent that the share of manufacturing in both employment and in GDP has fallen to levels not seen since measurements began in 1960.
An alarmingly large share of the predominantly young voting population has never seen healthy economic growth in their adult lives.
IRR data has always shown ANC support rises and wanes in correlation with the material conditions of the population. The ANC knows that its prospects are grim going into the national election two years hence.
What is a failing government to do?
Drumming circle of hate
Upstart opposition parties, including the Economic Freedom Fighters, Action SA, and the Patriotic Alliance, have exploited the economic fears of the people to whip up xenophobic hatred, as if immigrants are to blame for the country’s woes.
If xenophobia drums up support, and sadly it does, then the ruling party must think it ought to join the drumming circle of hate. This would allow it to blame the failures of its government on foreigners, who (they falsely claim) steal our jobs and overburden our government services.
This is the light in which we need to view Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s decision not to extend the validity of Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEP) beyond the end of the year, threatening 178 000 refugees from that benighted country, who have made homes and lives in South Africa, with deportation.
The ZEP follows on from several similar permits which were issued since 2009 to protect Zimbabwean refugees from arrest, imprisonment, and deportation, until such time as conditions have improved in their home country.
The decision goes against the recommendations of his own director-general, who proposed a three-year phase-out period to regularise the immigration status of Zimbabwean refugees. Given the backlogs at Home Affairs, it will be hard or impossible for any ZEP holders to successfully apply for permanent residence status before the deadline expires.
Political and economic conditions in Zimbabwe have also not improved. On the contrary, they have become worse. According to the founding affidavit of the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF), which is challenging the decision in court, extreme poverty has more than doubled since Zimbabwean refugees were first welcomed in South Africa.
It also flies in the face of the pan-African solidarity that was expressed more than a decade ago, recognising that as Zimbabwe welcomed exiled South Africa liberation struggle activists, South Africa should return the favour in the hour of need of Zimbabweans.
This decision will rip children out of schools. It will rip breadwinners from their families. It will rip employees from employers, and worse, will rip Zimbabwean employers from the people they employ.
It will void the unemployment insurance and pension funds Zimbabweans have built up in South Africa over 13 years, forcing them to start with nothing in a country they no longer know, and which remains in dire straits.
It kicks hardworking, honest Zimbabweans onto the streets with nothing but the clothes on their backs. It is a moral disgrace.
The premise that immigrants are to blame for South Africa’s woes is, of course, absolute nonsense. Many, or perhaps most, of them are hardworking, taxpaying, law-abiding contributors to the South African economy. Some start companies that create employment and boost economic activity.
News24 has assembled profiles of some people who would be affected, which give an idea of the human impact the revocation of ZEPs would have.
Even if one considers them all to be nothing but burdens on the state, however, their numbers make up only a small fraction of the population, so cruel and brutal measures such as denying them public healthcare (over which Section 27 is separately suing the government) are unwarranted.
There is also no documented link between ZEP holders and unemployment in South Africa. If it exists, which is highly doubtful, it would be so marginal as to be negligible.
Grounds for review
The HSF cites a number of grounds on which the decision ought to be reviewed by the court. The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) consulted nobody about the decision and did not even inform ZEP holders. It materially infringes on the dignity and rights of Zimbabwean refugees, many of whom have built lives, homes, careers, and families in South Africa. There was no attempt to assess the impact on ZEP holders, their partners, their children and their families back home in Zimbabwe. The HSF argues that the decision, for a number of reasons, is irrational and unreasonable.
In response, Motsoaledi threw a temper tantrum. How dare the HSF interfere with his executive fiat?
In a strongly worded statement, he said the HSF’s legal action was ‘a perfect example of the destructive role that some non-governmental organisations (NGO) are capable of’.
‘There’s a disturbing and growing trend by some NGOs to sabotage the polycentric and policy laden decisions taken by Government by using the courts. This development must be nipped in the bud as soon as possible,’ he said. ‘South Africa is now under the dictatorship of some of the NGOs with some having faceless and dubious funders. Their ultimate aim is to assist in the dislodgement of government of the day from power by all means available.’
Who’s the dictator?
Ironically, the fact that Motsoaledi did not consult anyone about this decision, least of all the affected parties, and now expects to ‘engage with several members of civil society with a view to manage the consequences of his decision collectively’, makes him the dictator.
We have laws against that sort of executive unaccountability.
NGOs who exercise their democratic rights to question the legality and constitutionality of executive decisions are not dictators. Their affidavits have no force of law. Their claims do not break up families, wrest children from their schools, and dump innocent people into penury.
Only if a court agrees with them do their interventions become binding on the government, and then only because the government’s executive decisions were not lawful and rational, and overstepped the bounds of constitutionality.
It is true that the ZEPs are temporary measures. The underlying reason for their existence has not changed, however, contrary to Motsoaledi’s claims, so they remain necessary.
The Immigration Act explicitly enjoins the government to prevent and counter xenophobia, and to enforce immigration law in under ‘a human rights based culture’.
If the DHA is adamant on ending the programme, it should give far longer notice, and actively help Zimbabweans who have settled and built lives in South Africa to acquire permanent resident status even if they wouldn’t qualify for immigration under criteria such as scarce skills.
Destroying someone’s livelihood or family can never be compatible with a ‘human rights based culture’.
If the HSF’s court action achieves such an outcome, the effect will only be to make the government more humane and considerate. Surely Motsoaledi cannot be against that?
Maybe he is. Maybe it’s more important for him that the ANC wins the next election. If so, civil society should do everything in its power to thwart his evil plans.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR
If you like what you have just read, support the Daily Friend