South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said Zimbabweans and Basotho who were living in the neighbouring country under a special permit should regularise their stay as they cannot have different laws from everyone else.
Motsoaledi said his Government doesn’t know the exact number of illegal immigrants who are in the country with estimates ranging from 3.5 million to 5 million.
He, however, said the number of refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa are known. Speaking to Newsroom Afrika on Wednesday, Motsoaledi, said:
We do have the number of people who are refugees in South Africa and those are under international protection. We have the numbers because we even give them IDs. We do have the number of asylum seekers in the country.
We know the number of people who are on a work visa, and the number of permanent residents because we report their names to parliament every year.
What we don’t know is the number of people who are illegal, if we knew them then they wouldn’t be illegal. They’re hiding, and don’t want to come out. They just arrived.
We believe it is normal for any human being when you arrive in any country to announce yourself and say I’m here and tell us what you’re looking for and we see how to help you.
Those who are illegal, how do we know their number because even organisations in SA, including StatsSA, are just doing estimates.
Some are saying the estimate is between 3.5 and 5 million people who are here illegally, but we don’t have such figures, how can we have them because somebody who is illegal is exactly that.
They’re doing something illegal and did not report themselves to anyone. Many of them don’t even want to be known.
Motsoaledi clarified the issue of the special permit for foreign nationals that was discontinued when it expired on 31 December 2021 saying the permit was not given to Zimbabweans only but also nationals from other regional countries. He said:
I’m not going to be blackmailed into that because if I allow myself to be blackmailed, we’ll never be able to run the state.
The special permit was not only given to Zimbabweans, it was also given to Basotho and Angolans.
In 1998 only 11 000 people came to South Africa to ask for asylum, all of a sudden in 2008, the number changed to 207 000 and most people were from Zimbabwe, and the following year another 227 000.
Within two years, we were faced with more than 400,000 people asking for asylum. The system was not designed for that, it was overrun and Home Affairs decided to give them special permits in order to deal with the situation.
We said the time has arrived that normal immigration laws must apply, so we’re not changing any law, immigration laws have always been there.
We’re saying they must apply like every other person who comes here. It can’t be that Zimbabweans and Basotho have got a different law to rule them when everyone else is under immigration laws.
Late last year, South Africa’s cabinet announced that the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) dispensation will no longer be renewed.
ZEP expired on 31 December but South Africa decided on a 12-month grace period to allow ZEP holders to apply for other permits appropriate to their particular status or situation.
Those who fail to acquire other visas will have to leave South Africa or be deported.