Minister Gigaba remains defiant in Visa Fight … and risks his Career

HOW can the debacle of the immigration regulations be explained? According to media reports, youthful heartthrob Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba has faced off against wiry veteran Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom in a fight about unabridged birth certificates and biometric data collection.

The ill-conceived nature of the regulations bequeathed by Gigaba’s predecessor, Naledi Pandor, probably became clear to Gigaba only when his department presented its plan to implement the 2002 Immigration Act, and its new regulations, to the economic sectors employment and infrastructure development cluster in February.

The Department of Home Affairs had been largely oblivious to the concerns of investors, businesspeople and parastatals about the damage new regulations would do to tourism, foreign direct investment and the acquisition of scarce skills. The horrified cluster secretariat convened a workshop at director-general level to formulate a reply, bringing together departments such as Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation; Public Works; Trade and Industry; Small Business; Science and Technology; Transport; and Tourism. They reached out to their stakeholders in a creditable consultative exercise, and prepared a devastating assessment of the new regulations well before they were to be introduced on June 1.

New visa regulations of many kinds, they noted, were already causing huge costs for businesses investing in SA. Technicians have to reapply for visas each time they enter SA. Applications for general work visas require certification from an incapacitated Department of Labour. Critical skills visas require accreditation by the glacially slow South African Qualifications Agency. Corporate visas have to be submitted to three departments: Home Affairs, Trade and Industry, and Labour.

The new requirements for travelling with children, the cluster observed, would be a major threat to tourism. Why collect biometric data in ways that deter tourists, especially when such information could be more efficiently gathered at ports of entry? The cluster concluded that all these regulations would cost jobs — and probably in a big way.

Gigaba decided to go ahead anyway.

It would be comforting to imagine that this is merely a “departmental silo” problem, in which Home Affairs is preoccupied with child trafficking, while Tourism is preoccupied with visitor convenience. Or that this is all a matter of face for a young minister who wants to be president, has failed as minister of public enterprises, and now cannot bow down before the forces of reaction.

But it is much worse than that. First, it is about race. The tourism industry, no matter how many jobs it creates, shows a white face to government, and the success of the sector breeds resentment. Second, Home Affairs and the security cluster departments are packed with paranoid and economically illiterate officials.

Third, African National Congress (ANC) and state mechanisms for making policy do not mesh well. When it comes to fine-tuning immigration regulations to promote “capitalist economic growth” (as if the ANC has some other kind of growth on offer), a small man like Gigaba is forced to play the anticapitalist game. If ministers do not protect their own jobs above those of SA’s citizens, they cease to be ministers.

In his state of the nation “implementation update” on Tuesday, President Jacob Zuma woke from his slumbers to announce the establishment of an interministerial committee on immigration regulations under Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. It will be interesting to see whether the pieties of the National Development Plan can hold their own against the security state paranoia and fatuous anti-capitalism that threaten to overwhelm the current administration.

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