Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize has defended the decision by her predecessor, Malusi Gigaba, to grant early citizenship to members of the Gupta family, saying “political smoke” has obscured legitimate administrative processes.
Mkhize said neither she nor the home affairs department had anything to hide -– and she was willing to defend the decision in Parliament if given sufficient time.
Mkhize told the Mail & Guardian that the allegations of state capture surrounding the Guptas had caused people to start scrutinising everything regarding the family. “They are no longer just neutral persons. I think what makes people to be interested are the allegations that are flying around associated with their name,” she said.
“Until such a time that these allegations are cleared, people will want to know, ‘Is this part of wrongdoing? Are people colluding?’ So I think we just need to be prepared to account and be transparent.”
The transparency, she said, could mean putting up on the home affairs website every decision made by the minister to waive naturalisation requirements in special cases.
Last week the Economic Freedom Fighters released two documents, which they believed proved Gigaba’s involvement in unduly granting the Guptas early naturalisation despite an initial rejection of their application by the department. The documents detailed how an application for naturalisation by Ajay Gupta, his wife, mother and two sons was declined because of noncompliance with one of the requirements.
Applicants for naturalisation need to be permanent residents in the country for five years preceding their application, and not be absent from the country for more than 90 days at a time. Ajay’s mother, Angoori Gupta, had exceeded the 90-day window period by 18 days, which disqualified all five family members from eligibility.
Those who have questioned the decision to grant early naturalisation have raised alarms about this being another possible case of interference within the state. But Mkhize said there was nothing untoward about Gigaba’s action and that any person unhappy with the outcome of their application had the right to appeal to the minister, as the Guptas did.
“In this instance if, as a minister, you think, yes, this person was out [of the country beyond the allowed period] but the number of days … really doesn’t create the impression that they took a job somewhere. It was on that basis that we said yes [to granting naturalisation]. Unfortunately, if you say that everybody jumps and says, ‘Ah, so it means we must expect your name in the emails,’ ” she said.
In a media briefing last week Gigaba said the waiver granted to the Guptas was not the first of its kind and that he had granted similar approval to academic staff and others whose skills were needed in the country.
“You would be surprised to know that there are many other decisions,” he told journalists.
According to Mkhize, one of the criteria that allowed the Guptas to succeed in their appeal to Gigaba was their status as investors.
The new minister has been criticised for failing to appear before Parliament’s home affairs portfolio committee on Tuesday when she, Gigaba and home affairs director general Mkuseli Apleni were expected to be questioned on the naturalisation of the Guptas. All three were absent.
Mkhize said her absence on the day was owed to her busy schedule and not because she had anything to hide.
“The chairperson was aware and the whip, they were also aware that it was a chock-a-block day for me,” she said. “If I was free and open I would go. They must just give us sufficient time.”
She also said she was not shielding Gigaba because he was her colleague and that she wouldn’t hesitate to speak up if she believed him to have been wrong in his assessment of the situation.
“Oh, I would definitely say it and I don’t think it would be a sin because assessors sometimes see things differently,” she said.
“I wouldn’t see it as a crime if he saw things differently at the time and I see things differently.” – Additional reporting by Matuma Letsoalo