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Aaron Motsoaledi’s ‘search’ for Thabo Bester meant briefing on Electoral Amendment Act-related changes ditched

Aaron Motsoaledi’s ‘search’ for Thabo Bester meant briefing on Electoral Amendment Act-related changes ditched
Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

The official document sent to MPs on legislative changes needed now that the Electoral Amendment Act is in force was an ‘absolute mistake’. But when this briefing was swapped for one on the Thabo Bester saga, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi delivered another instalment of Keystone Kops.

Chartering a R1.4-million plane for 14 officials to fetch Thabo Bester and Nandipha Magudumana from Tanzania was not some luxury jolly as claimed in the media, according to Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Tuesday, but the cheapest form of transport.

Although the SAPS went to Tanzania with one Home Affairs official, “that gentleman was not from immigration”, and the Tanzanian authorities, correctly, refused to just hand over Bester and Magudumana, arrested in connection with his May 2022 prison break that Ground Up first reported in November 2022.

Deportation involves immigration services on a country-to-country basis, often also involving diplomatic representatives. And while the Tanzanian authorities knew their jobs, their South African counterpart played cowboys; it wasn’t police needed up north, but Home Affairs.

“Our only option was to fly commercial. If we have to do that we needed to fly a team of 14 — each had a role — to Dar Es Salaam, hire minibuses, at least two, and drive 600 kilometres to Arusha and then drive another 60kms to Mount Kilimanjaro,” Motsoaledi told MPs on Tuesday.

“We looked at the logistics… We are forced to charter flights… R1.4-million was the cheapest of them all… We never asked for a luxury flight It was the cheapest.”

But responding to IPF MP Liezl van der Merwe’s questions over the flight arrangements, Motsoaledi revised the number of officials to 12, including the pilots. 

“Eventually, it came to be correctional services, security services, police… immigration officials.”

A third of the cost of the R1.4-million chartered flight would be paid by Home Affairs, the rest by the other involved departments.

Motsoaledi maintained a chartered flight had been the best option. It would not be acceptable to take “two people in handcuffs with a bunch of persons (watching them)” on a commercial flight.

“I don’t think anyone would have allowed that. We (South Africa) never have deported anyone in a commercial flight… We can’t do that in as much as we want to save money…”

Tuesday’s ministerial briefing to MPs essentially was a repeat of Motsoaledi’s media briefing on Friday. Again, what was outlined is a system where not all births are recorded, questions are raised over death certificate issuance, and how children can fly under the radar without any questions being asked. 

“We thought he (Bester) must be an illegal alien because we didn’t find anyone on the system,” Motsoaledi had said. Bester’s birth was recorded on 13 June 1986 at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital — the records were found in the archives there. Without registration, Bester finally went to school aged 11 in 1997 before dropping out five years later.

Read more in Daily MavericK: ‘He simply didn’t exist’ — Aaron Motsoaledi explains how Thabo Bester slipped through Home Affairs cracks 

Getting to this point had taken all his time, Motsoaledi told MPs.

“It was hectic in the past two weeks in the department. I had to lead a search for Thabo Bester, which was becoming very difficult… The legal team was busy (in court) the whole week on the ZEP (Zimbabwean Exemption Permit) issue.”

The people who drafted what had been sent to MPs for Tuesday’s briefing on the required consequential amendments now the Electoral Amendment Act is in force — this included the Political Party Funding Act, for example — made a mistake.

“It’s an absolute, absolute mistake. I can’t even own it,” said Motsoaledi whose request for withdrawing the briefing document was accepted by MPs. “Any date you’ll give me, I’ll come running.”

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said those responsible for drafting what had been sent to MPs for Tuesday’s briefing on the required consequential amendments now the Electoral Amendment Act is in force made a critical mistake.

This delay echos the wait for Motsoaledi to table the draft legislation in Parliament after the 11 June 2020 Constitutional Court ruling independents must be allowed to participate in provincial and national legislation.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Electoral amendment proposals raise concerns amid pressure to meet June 2022 ConCourt deadline

Effectively this put the time squeeze on Parliament — twice the Constitutional Court had to be asked for extensions. And when the Bill was passed in Parliament in February, only the ANC and EFF supported it.

Read more in Daily Maverick: MPs approve electoral legislation for 2024 independents despite misgivings, and IEC needs a new commissioner 

Signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday, the Electoral Amendment Act was welcomed by the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), which said it would give it the necessary planning certainty needed ahead of the 2024 elections.

Labour federation Cosatu said it was “critical” the IEC and Home Affairs ensured all resources and measures are in place to ensure the 2024 elections unfold smoothly.

“This is a journey that needs to be handled with the necessary sobriety and thought to avoid rash decisions that may leave voters and large parts of society behind,” its statement said.

One South Africa Movement leader Mmusi Maimane was scathing about the law, saying it betrayed the principle of a people’s government.

The DA in a statement said the law was a “perversion of democracy” on the basis of the calculations for seats in provincial legislatures and Parliament, saying the lion’s share of votes in excess of what’s needed for a seat would go to the ANC. 

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse highlighted not all issues were resolved. “The concerns Outa has raised could have significant implications for the outcome of elections and representation in legislatures for citizens,” it said in a statement.

Monday’s televised IEC briefing on the law showed much of the prep work is done already. This includes determining support numbers for independents in each province, and deciding it would continue to be one ballot, possibly quite long, per province featuring both political parties and independents.

Ultimately, the test will be in what could be South Africa’s most contested poll yet, the 2024 elections. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    here goes another law to be withdrawn! has the ANC no guts to run an election campaign as individuals? clearly not otherwise they would not come up with this silly law that is unconstitutional

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    It is becoming more and more apparent that Motsaoledi is (and has been) as far out of his depth as he was as Health minister. The man can’t string a coherent sentence or logical point of view together and is as disgraceful as the rest of the incompetent circus acts in the ANC. Not even the head clown, Cyril, is able to convince anyone of anything anymore.

  • Hester Dobat says:

    Fluster and bluster from our minister in the opening line certainly does not boost the public’s confidence in the Government nor does the bungling of a very important issue of 2024 voting inspire us for a prospect of a brighter (excuse the pun!) Future of beautiful but battered South Africa.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    If there are so many clever people in parliament, why give the difficult jobs to old men and nincompoops? Surely there are well-paid bureaucrats that can churn out the verbiage this task needs?

  • Gregory Scott says:

    What do these events and the subsequent response/s say about the quality of leadership in South Africa.
    Nothing short of hopelessly inadequate, ineffective and incompetent.
    How does one calculate the cost of this poor cadre deployed leadership?
    Voetsek ANC

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