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2024 elections — Where SA’s major political parties stand on contentious issue of immigration

2024 elections — Where SA’s major political parties stand on contentious issue of immigration

We sent questions to the ANC, DA, EFF, IFP, FF Plus, ActionSA, PA, MK Party and Rise Mzansi.

Today’s questions and answers to the major political parties deal with immigration.

We emailed our questions to the ANC, DA, EFF, IFP, FF Plus, ActionSA, PA, MK Party, and RISE Mzansi on 13 March and sent follow-up queries to those who did not respond. Some have still not responded.

Answers are very lightly edited for grammar and typos.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

Does your party support continued extensions of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP)?

ANC: The ANC did not answer our questions.

DA: The DA in government would introduce the following special dispensation with regard to our closest neighbours:

  • Allow ZEP holders, approximately 180,000 Zimbabwean nationals, to apply for any alternative visa for which they qualify, including permanent residency for ZEP holders of more than five years.
  • Allow visa-free entry allowing travel, study, and trade or establishment of a business to all citizens of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, and Namibia with a path to permanent residency for postgraduates, those qualifying under the points system, and for those whose business has survived after five years.
  • Initially, this will not include the right to seek work, and separate work provisions will still govern the ability to work.
  • After three years of the roll-out of this special dispensation programme, review the evidence and consider setting out a clear plan with timelines for integrating Zimbabwe and the rest of SADC into the special dispensation.
  • The special dispensation programme should form part of South Africa’s custom roadmap to the progressive realisation of the African Union protocol by building implementation experience in the region.

EFF: The EFF did not answer our questions.

IFP: We have indeed supported the ministers throughout this process, focusing on concluding the current permit system and urging Zimbabweans to secure their stay in South Africa by applying for appropriate visas.

Regarding the future of Zimbabweans in South Africa post-permit expiry, the expectation is clear: they should ideally return to their homeland, unless they successfully apply for and obtain alternative visa categories that allow them to stay. This directive applies broadly, including to children of Zimbabwean parents born and raised in South Africa, who are also expected to return should their parents do so, barring qualification for other visas.

FF Plus: The FF Plus answered “no”.

When asked what should happen to Zimbabweans in South Africa once their permits expire, the FF Plus responded: The holders of these permits should be allowed to apply for alternative visas and in the case of permit holders who have been in South Africa for more than five years they should be able to apply for permanent residency.

When asked what about the children of Zimbabwean parents born in South Africa who have grown up here, the FF Plus responded: They should be allowed to apply for permanent residency.

ActionSA: ActionSA has expressed concern about the extension of the permit and referred to their statement released in 2022, which provides broader insight on the matter. Essentially, ActionSA is opposed to the ZEP, stating the extension of the ZEP was “a mockery of our constitutional democracy”.

PA: This government unforgivably put itself and all of us in a very difficult situation with these permits years ago. They now realise they had no business doing it, but it’s very difficult to turn back the clock. They’re trying to convince voters that they’ve suddenly become tough on illegal immigration, but we don’t think people are buying it. We do not support the continued extensions of the permit. Whoever has been given these permits must be processed properly by the system and if that means they need to go home, then so be it.

When asked what should happen to Zimbabweans in South Africa once their permits expire, the PA responded: They need to be processed to determine if they should stay here or go home. We believe that the majority will not meet the criteria to stay.

When asked what about the children of Zimbabwean parents born in South Africa who have grown up here, the PA responded: What about them? We would not want to separate families. They should go home too.

MK Party: The MK Party did not respond to our questions.

Rise Mzansi: Rise Mzansi believes that South Africa’s immigration system is broken and needs comprehensive reform. The challenge of the ZEP is one big symptom of the wider problem.

We appreciate that holders of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit have built lives in South Africa, including raising children in the country. It would be inhumane to expel them. It is also untenable to leave them in legal limbo. ZEP holders without criminal records should be enabled to apply for permanent residence to regularise the fact that they are now long-term residents in South Africa.

This regularisation must be coupled with wider immigration reforms to manage regional migration.

These include: better management of our borders and ports of entry; engaging with neighbouring countries on migration to prevent irregular migration into South Africa; fixing the asylum seeker management system to resolve the multi-year backlog in asylum decisions and stop its use as a channel for economic migrants; and increasing immigration enforcement of industries so that migrants without legitimate visas authorising work find it difficult or impossible to work in South Africa, reducing pull factors.

Many foreign nationals have been living in South Africa for years without the required documentation. Does your party support regularising their stay? If so, under what conditions?

ANC: The ANC did not answer our questions.

DA: In order to address future undocumented migration and the current undocumented population in South Africa, the DA will:

  • Explore the economic cost vs benefit of an e-verification system that would enable employers to check the work eligibility status of potential employees against a Home Affairs database. If feasible, this would mandate employers to verify that a prospective employee possesses a valid permit to work in South Africa. A self-check mechanism must also be provided to allow persons to check their status and resolve any discrepancies.
  • Investigate and drastically improve conditions and treatment at holding facilities for those arrested or awaiting deportation, and prevent unlawful arrests, human rights violations, and poor treatment of irregular migrants.
  • Provide an amnesty period for all undocumented migrants, giving them an opportunity to either return home and attempt to re-enter legally without prejudice or to apply for the relevant visa from within South Africa (provided they have the required documentation). If the application from within South Africa is unsuccessful, then the same rules as a failed visa renewal apply.

EFF: The EFF did not answer our questions.

IFP: The IFP does indeed recognise the presence of many foreign nationals who have been residing in South Africa for years without the necessary documentation. We are in favour of regularising their stay under specific conditions and subject to our laws. For individuals who meet these criteria, we believe in creating a pathway to legal residency, ensuring they can continue to contribute positively to our society without the fear of deportation.

For those who do not meet these conditions, we propose an amnesty period of six months to humanely and orderly address an undocumented migrant’s status and process repatriation to their country of origin. This includes assistance in applying for the necessary documentation or, in cases where staying in South Africa is not an option, support for voluntary repatriation to their countries of origin. Our approach is guided by a commitment to uphold human dignity while ensuring the security and prosperity of South Africans.

FF Plus: Regularising is important and illegal immigration should be eradicated through efficient border control.

ActionSA: ActionSA did not answer this question.

PA: If they entered the country in a criminal fashion, they will need to leave. If they don’t leave, we will mass deport them. If we arrest them again, they will be criminally charged and jailed. Your question suggests that just because someone has been doing something wrong for a long time, they should be treated differently. Imagine if we treated other crimes the same way. You’d end up not prosecuting people who’ve been defrauding their employer for many years. Or maybe if someone has been robbing cash-in-transit vans for 20 years, should we say: “Let’s go easy on him, he’s been doing this for a long time?”

MK Party: The MK Party did not respond to our questions.

Rise Mzansi: We would apply the same principles outlined above in relation to the ZEP.

Children born to undocumented immigrant parents in South Africa are effectively stateless. Should they automatically be given South African citizenship?

ANC: The ANC did not answer our questions.

DA: The DA is committed to preventing the occurrence of child statelessness and mitigating its consequences through appropriate interventions, such as:

  • Strengthening the institutional capacity for the management and protection of stateless persons.
  • Promoting partnerships between government and development partners, civil society, and NGOs to strengthen the response to statelessness.
  • Removing the requirement for a South African citizen to witness the birth to receive a notice of birth.
  • Allowing children to apply for naturalisation at the age of 18 where they have no proof of birth registration.
  • Proactively working with the Department of Basic Education to address the large numbers of learners without birth registration through increased deployment of mobile units and opening of Home Affairs offices on Saturdays to accommodate school learners.

EFF: The EFF did not answer our questions

IFP: When discussing whether a child born to undocumented migrants is stateless, it’s important to clarify a common misunderstanding. A child born under these circumstances is not stateless. Every child comes from a country, and is therefore affiliated with a country through their parents’ nationality. For instance, if a child’s parents are undocumented migrants from Mozambique, the RSA government will still issue a notice of birth for the child. This certificate is a crucial document that acknowledges the child’s birth.

This process ensures that the child is recognised by their parents’ home country. The misconception that these children are stateless arises from a lack of awareness about this procedure. However, the truth is they are not stateless; they have a country of origin determined by their parents’ nationality.

FF Plus: They should be allowed to apply for permanent residency.

ActionSA: ActionSA did not answer this question.

PA: Your assumptions are untrue. The USA is one of the few countries that practises this idea of rights of the soil, meaning you have some claim to statehood just because you were born there. South Africa, like most other countries in the world, recognises statehood by family lineage. Therefore, in South Africa, you are not “effectively stateless”. Home Affairs gives you a certificate of recognition of birth, which your parents are meant to take back to their country, with you, to have your birth registered in their country, so that you can get citizenship where you belong. We have no intention of changing this approach.

MK Party: The MK Party did not answer our questions.

Rise Mzansi: No they should not automatically be given SA citizenship. This would undermine our citizenship laws which do not grant citizenship based on place of birth, but rather on the condition that one of a child’s parents is South African, wherever they are born.

We believe there are relatively few cases of immigrants in South Africa with no documents whatsoever. Most immigrants in South Africa have passports from their home countries. Unless a migrant is granted asylum, Home Affairs should work with their embassy or consulate to verify their citizenship, find relatives and register their children’s birth. Only in exceptional cases where an undocumented immigrant minor cannot be reunited with parents or guardians and assume their citizenship, should South African citizenship be granted to prevent statelessness. DM

First published by GroundUp.

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