/ 4 March 2024

Mbeki takes aim at Motsoaledi’s white paper on migration

Border Crossing
A Zimbabwean woman moves through a hole cut in the border fence while illegally crossing from Zimbabwe into South Africa. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Former president Thabo Mbeki has criticised Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s White Paper on Citizenship, Immigration and Refugee Protection in a letter written to the department, calling for it to be improved. 

In a letter seen by the Mail & Guardian and dated 31 January, Mbeki pointed to discrepancies and “very serious omissions” in the white paper (WP) which he said, “make it impossible for our population to make the constructive comments requested” by the minister.

“It is … not written in a manner which empowers the citizens, not members of the DHA (Department of Home Affairs), to make any meaningful comment about what are critically important matters. Accordingly, I humbly suggested that the Draft WP should be improved, taking into account the comments above, and others, and then re-published for public comment.” 

Motsoaledi announced the publication of the white paper in November, calling for an overhaul of the country’s laws on citizenship and migration.

The paper went out for public comment in January. It also called for South Africa to withdraw from international agreements on refugee protection.

It proposed the government review or withdraw from the 1951 UN Refugees Convention, the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. 

The Refugees Act prohibits refusal of entry, expulsion or extradition of asylum seekers and refugees. 

Mostoaledi states that there are insufficient resources available to cater for people who might enter South Africa requiring citizenship to access benefits, rights and privileges that go with it, as reported by TimesLIVE. 

“In the US, Canada, Switzerland and Britain — which are very highly developed countries with resources that far exceed resources in our country — they have developed strict immigration, citizenship and refugee laws to protect the rights of their citizens,” he said in November last year. 

In his submission, Mbeki said that Mostoaledi fails to argue the defectiveness of the existing laws on migration. 

Mbeki added that the minister’s document also fails to indicate what the main features of the completely overhauled migration system would be, including the features of the radical changes.

Mostoaledi’s statement in the paper stated its intention was towards a complete overhaul of the migration system in South Africa.

“Nowhere in the WP is there such an overarching policy framework provided. It is therefore impossible to understand the changes suggested in the WP in the context of any policy, and there are no guarantees that in the absence of such a policy framework, the deficiencies the Honourable Minister spoke about will not persist.

“The Honourable Minister also says that the WP is in line with international trends in other countries with similar challenges in migration. The WP should explain and illustrate this as it is not self-evident with which other countries we face similar challenges in migration, especially as this would influence our policy options,” Mbeki said. 

The former president questioned how paragraph 90 of the white paper stated that the department has no idea as to how many illegal immigrants are in South Africa, while in paragraph 103 it said that the sheer number of illegal foreigners in the country makes it impossible to detect all of them. 

“Which of the two is correct? This matter is important as various claims about these numbers have been used to justify xenophobic proposals and practices.” 

“The practical difficulty we face concerning the current Draft White Paper is that it does not contain any draft overarching policy framework. It gives no details about the planned radical changes mentioned by the Minister, including an indication of what would be changed. In instances where Parliament rejected legislative proposals made by the DHA, it does not state what the basis of the rejection was. 

“Where it states that our country must make reservations concerning various International Conventions/Treaties, it does not say what these ‘reservations’ would be, and why they would be made. And, where it mentions international trends or mentions positively the practice in other named countries, it does not explain why such trends and practices would be good for our country,” Mbeki said. 

Lawyers for Human Rights is among some of the civil rights organisations which have called for clarity on the white paper.