Home affairs and Mashaba to collaborate to 'manage immigration' in Johannesburg

Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Malusi Gigaba, the minister of home affairs, has said his office plans to collaborate with Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba following a meeting that home affairs called with the mayor after Mashaba made comments around “illegal” immigrants in Johannesburg, which were denounced as being xenophobic.

Gigaba said he had agreed with Mashaba that national government needs to intervene in matters related to undocumented migrants who come to Johannesburg.

“The mayor and I have agreed that we are going to have a broader meeting next year at a political level and involving various arms of the state to look at the challenges that the City is facing,” Gigaba said after the meeting.

According to Mashaba, Johannesburg’s challenges include unemployment, the poor living conditions of people in poverty and a high crime rate. He said that talk of “illegal” immigrants came during an event to commemorate his first 100 days in office.

“Two weeks ago during the 100 days [of office event], I elaborated this quite extensively and then the question came up about illegal immigrants,” Mashaba said.

“I said, in the City of Johannesburg, it’s not a question of illegal immigrants causing problems. Even South Africans who are criminals also contribute towards this. For us, a criminal is a criminal.”

Home affairs released a statement earlier to say that public officials should take care not to incite xenophobia with their remarks. The statement was released after Mashaba’s 100 days in office address, but the two offices now seem to have agreed to collaborate.

Tighter border controls
Gigaba also said that the department has planned to rework its approach to managing foreign nationals who cross the border into South Africa.

“The country is currently undertaking a discussion to formulate a new framework for international migration management, bearing in mind that the current immigration white paper of 1999 has become outdated in a number of ways,” Gigaba said.

Home affairs expects the Border Management Authority Bill, which the department brought to Parliament, to be finalised next year. The Bill proposes that all ports of entry into South Africa are managed by a new law enforcement agency that will have customs and security officials at every border post. They are also working on an integrated border management strategy, as well as seeking other border management interventions.

For the department, tightening borders seems to be the key to developing a mechanism to address people who enter into South Africa without documents. But there have been concerns raised around the securitisation and scrutiny foreign nationals face from the South African government. 

Gigaba said that many of Mashaba’s concerns on undocumented immigrants, which the home affairs ministry agrees with, were highlighted during Operation Fiela — a joint police and home affairs effort that allowed police to raid and detain foreign nationals living in South Africa during the severe outbreak of xenophobic violence against immigrants in 2015.

Although Gigaba acknowledged that many foreign nationals contribute positively to skills development and add to the South African economy, he maintained that stronger government intervention is necessary to address undocumented people.

Following the rule of law
Mashaba said that he did not regret his earlier comments, in which he linked foreign nationals without papers to crime in Johannesburg.

“How can I regret asking for a national government intervention to ensure that we have the rule of law?” he said.

“I cannot see how anyone can expect me to apologise because I think all of us as South Africans and the international community, let us respect the rule of law anywhere in the world where we are.”

He reiterated the comments hemade at his 100 days in office event, saying that the rule of law must be maintained and respected in Johannesburg and that the city needs to be reclaimed.

“Obviously, what compounds it and makes it difficult for the city is the number of people undocumented that makes it difficult for our law enforcement agencies and I said that is where we need the national government to assist us in this regard,” Mashaba said.

“We cannot tolerate in our city a situation where there is a breakdown of the rule of law,” he added. “We’re saying we need to reclaim the city back for all our people.”

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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