21 October 2013
On 15 October 2013, about 40 Department of Home Affairs (DHA) officials protested outside their Cape Town office.The protest brings to a head several months of clashes between officials and DHA management.
In a grievance sent to DHA provincial management and to director general Mkuseli Apleni, aggrieved employees demanded that DHA Western Cape provincial manager Yusuf Simons be reprimanded for referring to some officials as ‘lazy and tired dogs’ at a staff meeting in May.
According to the officials, Simons has not yet apologized for this statement and little has been done to resolve the friction.
“The director general’s office responded two months after the incident happened. The workers’ right to dignity was affronted and management has been too slow to respond,” said Nehawu regional representative Isaac Makwetu.
According to the Labour Relations Act a grievance must be dealt with within 30 days, unless extended by agreement.
The memorandum handed over by the protesting employees claims there is a lack of respect and collegiality between them and management, and it calls for an end to the ‘abuse of power’ by DHA management. The employees claim they were threatened with disciplinary action for undertaking their constitutional right to protest.
In June, the DHA Cape Town office was mired in controversy after officials and security guards were accused of demanding bribes at the DHA Refugee Centre. A senior official working at the center was later dismissed, and a number of officials suspended.
Makwetu claims that some of these allegations were not entirely true. “They (DHA management) seem to charge the officials for following instructions. During the crisis at the refugee center, they asked employees to extend section 22 and 24 permits without following the correct administrative procedures.”
A section 22 permit legalises an asylum seeker’s stay in South Africa temporarily (usually six months) pending a final decision. If the asylum seeker’s application is successful, a section 24 permit is issued granting refugee status and permission to stay for two years in South Africa.
Makwetu said despite pressure on the DHA management to speedily handle asylum seekers, it should not have “sidestepped the correct procedures in an attempt to be efficient.” “In the end, the employees are asked to account for the decisions made by their supervisors. This is unfair as it places them [the employees] in an uncomfortable position.” said Makwetu.
Flouting correct procedures caused overbooking at the refugee center and unfair treatment of asylum seekers. Officials received no response to their grievance.
Bernard Toyambi, a project officer at PASSOP, a human rights organisation working to protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in South Africa says the ‘new comer crisis’ and lack of efficiency at the DHA cripples the quality of service that is offered to asylum seekers and refugees.
“Asylums seekers often do not know the different processes that are needed to get permits, this affects their ability to access opportunities. Service at the DHA is not only about the administrative procedures, but it is also about giving real meaning to these procedures.”
Commenting on the delayed service that asylum seekers and refugees experience, Toyambi said: “ Both Section 22 and 24 permits grant immigrants the right to study, work and access public services. These rights live only on paper because some people have to wait for longer than usual for the DHA to issue these permits.”
In response to a request for comment, the spokesperson for the DHA, Ronnie Mamoepa said, “We are aware of the petition and the office of the Director General will deal with the matter.”