Motsoaledi and Mashaba drag a Joburg city battle over verification of foreign nationals all the way to Parliament

By Suné Payne 22 October 2019
Outgoing Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba and Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi in Parliament in Cape Town, 22 October 2019. Mashaba briefed MPs on the “dysfunctional state” of the Department of Home Affairs, xenophobic violence and its failure to curb illegal immigration.(Photo: Leila Dougan)

When outgoing Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba and Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi met in Parliament on Tuesday to discuss foreign nationals within the city, it was clear from the reaction of MPs that these two public officials both agreed that undocumented migrants were a problem, but as one MP said it was 'frankly embarrassing that a minister and mayor can’t meet to solve an issue'.

Outgoing Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba appealed to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to intervene in his municipality’s dispute with the Department of Home Affairs over the verification status of foreign nationals in the city.

Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said they are willing to engage with the city. But MPs questioned why Parliament was needed when they could solve their issues through the South African Local Government Agency (SALGA).

Mashaba and some of his mayoral committee team, Ekurhuleni municipality mayor Mandible Masinga SALGA and the Department of Home Affairs, briefed a joint meeting of the Portfolio Committees on Home Affairs and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), over matters related to illegal immigration and xenophobia.

This meeting follows xenophobic and criminal outbreaks within the Gauteng region during September. Subsequently, the Nigerian government sent a plane to South Africa to collect their nationals and transport them back home. In early October, foreign nationals camped outside the United Nations Human Rights Council offices in Cape Town, asking that the UN help them get out of the country. This is still ongoing.

Read in Daily Maverick: Queues of foreign nationals at UN offices illustrate the desperation to leave South Africa

But on Tuesday in Parliament, Mashaba pleaded with the committee to work with the city to intervene in the verification of illegal migrants. The outgoing mayor stated that the city had been “engaging Home Affairs in the process for three years” after Mashaba took the mayoral chain in the 2016 local government elections. Mashaba wants the department to identify undocumented foreign nationals and in some cases, provide the correct legal documents to migrants who qualify.

Mashaba told the joint committee that it was not up to the city to verify the documentation of migrants, “it’s up to the department” to do so.

But Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi disputed Mashaba’s complaints, stating “I am trying my level best to understand what Mayor Mashaba wants”.

Motsoaledi gave a detailed story about how the two met at a funeral just after Motsoaledi was appointed as Home Affairs and Mashaba had requested a meeting with him over the issue of undocumented migrants.

The presentation from the mayor is that Home Affairs collapsed,” said Motsoaledi, who added, “we are willing to meet with SALGA and the executive mayor of Johannesburg”.

Motsoaledi then stated that his office had worked with the city previously, but the issue at hand was stricter border security and better documentation of those entering the country.

But MPs were not impressed with the exchanges and presentations.

EFF MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi from the COGTA committee questioned why the committee was invited to the meeting in the first place, if it was a dispute between the two officials: “Why are we here? To come and waste our time, it’s unfortunate.”

DA MP Mohammed Haniff Hoosen from the COGTA committee said it was “frankly embarrassing that a minister and mayor can’t meet to solve an issue”. He felt South Africans who were watching this session “had lost hope” in what they were watching unfold.

Home Affairs Committee chair, Advocate Bongani Bongo said undocumented migrants were the key problem and that the conversation was not over yet, as other departments such as Small Business Development still needed to be included.

Motsoaledi welcomed the committee’s suggestion that the department engaged with the city through SALGA, but said he “appeals to the committee not to tie this to the term of Councillor Mashaba’s office”.

On Monday, amid the election victory of Helen Zille as the federal council chairperson of the party, Mashaba announced his resignation from the DA, thus terminating his position as councillor and mayor of the City of Johannesburg. He is currently serving his notice until 27 November. DM


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