Maverick Citizen


Government officials play the NGO blame game while lives of vulnerable migrants at stake


Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist and columnist at Daily Maverick and is part of the founding team of Maverick Citizen. Prior to Daily Maverick she worked as a communications and advocacy officer at Public Interest Law Centre SECTION27.

The government’s scapegoating of ‘NGOs’ for its own failings is something I find quite alarming. Even more so is the wholesale uptake of this narrative by some in our society. At the centre of this ill intent are the non-profit Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA and the Helen Suzman Foundation, a think-tank. If we look at the work they do, we start to see the thread that holds the narrative together – and it has a decidedly xenophobic hue.

In June this year, the Helen Suzman Foundation launched a legal application challenging the decision by Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi to terminate the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP). The court found that his decision was invalid, unlawful and unconstitutional, and as a result the ZEP was extended to June 2024. The court also held that ZEP holders should not be arrested and be allowed to enter and leave South Africa.

Motsoaledi opted to appeal the court’s decision, saying that the orders “set a bad precedent”. The Helen Suzman Foundation has since launched an application to ensure the protection of ZEP holders while the minister makes his appeal representations.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (Seri) has been blamed for the Johannesburg housing and hijacked buildings crisis that came to a head more than a week ago when a fire consumed the building at 80 Albert Street in Marshalltown, killing at least 77 people. Most of those living in the dilapidated and hijacked building seem to have been migrants from elsewhere in Africa.

Various representatives from political parties in the city council, including the Patriotic Alliance, ActionSA, DA, EFF and Cope, blamed the incident on Seri. They said the NGO had stood in the way of efforts by the City of Johannesburg to stop the hijacking of buildings by using the courts, and as a result what they said were “illegal immigrants” were running amok.

In both these incidents, the lives of vulnerable migrants are at stake. Both the government and the City are trying to obfuscate the real issue by fanning the flames of xenophobia and creating animosity towards organisations intent on holding them accountable to their oath of office and our Constitution.

South Africa created the ZEP system for Zimbabweans fleeing the political and economic instability of their country. These permit holders are here lawfully and have started whole new lives. It simply cannot be right that such a sweeping decision is taken without proper consultation and prior notice so as to make adequate preparations. Most importantly, the law requires this.

In the Seri instance, our laws and Constitution require that, if City Councils want to evict people and demolish these unsafe buildings, they must find alternative accommodation for the residents. The question is why the City does not have the appetite to take control of the situation using the very laws that govern its conduct?

The principles of Seri and the Helen Suzman Foundation’s arguments are about accountability while maintaining the rule of law – and why would anyone oppose that?

The government and City cannot simply ignore our Constitution when it becomes inconvenient, and whip up xenophobic sentiment to get cheap political traction while distracting people from the real issues, which are the state’s systemic failures. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Graeme J says:

    “Various representatives from political parties in the city council, including the Patriotic Alliance, ActionSA, DA, EFF and Cope, blamed the incident on Seri.”

    Oh puhleeze. Go and do your homework before you publish stuff like this. How about the ANC? I know it is the author’s opinion, but please DM, try to stick to the truth.

  • Louise Louise says:

    Whether or not “SERI” has any involvement here, ultimately the local municipality, city/town planners and the local police have the collective responsibility to ensure that buildings are a) safe, b) occupied legally and c) comply with all relevant rental laws.

    So the “blame game” is just the usual way of refusing to accept responsibility for anything.

    And always the ordinary people suffer the fall-out.

    Yet another ANC failure.

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