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