As published by the Daily Maverick

By Gary Eisenberg 24 March 2021

The standard definition of the ‘noble lie’, a concept originated by Plato in his ‘Republic’ published in 375 BC, is a myth or untruth purposefully and knowingly propagated by the ruling class to maintain social harmony or to advance an agenda. Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi is a master of it.

Lies told by politicians in South Africa tend to be believed or dissed, but alas, hardly ever scrutinised to find their hidden meaning.

Often, these political narratives become the pretext for paradigmatic ideological change and new legislation. South Africa’s immigration and citizenship systems are about to change fundamentally. No formal announcements have been made. No official press releases have been circulated. But Home Affairs Minister Dr Pakishe Aaron Motsoaledi has been making some strange and interesting statements in the national media recently that may well be strands of the growing noise of change.

The Public Protector’s investigative report on then home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba’s granting of citizenship to some of the Gupta family members was published on 7 February 2021. Immediately thereafter, Motsoaledi was interviewed by Jane Dutton on eNCA.

Motsoaledi indicated that South Africa’s immigration system, especially permanent residence, will be reviewed because it is just a step away from citizenship. The nexus between immigration and citizenship and the need to sever it was first articulated in the White Paper on International Migration adopted by the Zuma Cabinet in 2017. The white paper formulates the policy principle as follows:

“There should be no automatic progression from residency to citizenship in law or in practice. That is, the process of granting residency (short term and long term) and citizenship will be delinked. A points-based system will be used to determine whether the applicant will qualify for a short-term or a long-term residence visa. However, the number of years spent in the country will not qualify a person to apply for naturalisation. The process of granting residence and citizenship status should allow strategic and security considerations and the national priorities of South Africa to be taken into account.”

So, the white paper argues, permanent residence and citizenship must be delinked, and this would occur through the replacement of permanent residence status with a long-term temporary visa. In this way, foreigners, who are sometimes a source of organised crime, will be more carefully managed and South Africa’s borders and sovereignty will be more effectively safeguarded.

The notion that foreigners are a burden to our society and a source of crime has been espoused on numerous occasions by Motsoaledi. In a Human Rights Watch article published in 2020 on xenophobic violence, Motsoaledi was quoted as saying that most foreigners are not here as migrants but as criminals and that is why they remain undocumented.

In 2018 when Motsoaledi was health minister, he suggested that foreign nationals were behind the overcrowding of South Africa’s public health system. The executive director of Amnesty International South Africa, Shenilla Mohamed, worriedly responded he should “stop this shameless scapegoating of refugees and migrants” and should “stop fuelling xenophobia with these unfounded remarks”.

Nothing was made of Motsoaledi’s outing by these international human rights watchdogs for his prejudice against foreigners, other than to have him appointed home affairs minister. The irony in this appointment was never the subject of any real contention. Motsoaledi was a minister in both of Zuma’s Cabinets and was obviously a participant in the ideological discussions around the white paper and its doctrinal stance on refugees and migrants and the need for radical immigration policy interventions which it purports to contain. His disposition is hardly surprising.

In the Dutton interview, Motsoaledi said that he had already decided that the separate Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees Acts are causing serious problems and havoc in South Africa’s courts and therefore they should be combined into a single act of legislation. This, he says, has been accomplished by quite a number of democracies.

This is an astounding revelation. Actually, no such mischief has been caused by these three separate pieces of legislation. Motsoaledi purposefully uses the word havoc to describe an untenable (non-existent) conflict wrought by the separation of these acts in order to discredit the existing legal order. Our courts have not entertained any such conflagrations. Rather, the deluge of litigation in our courts in this context relates mostly to the advanced dysfunction of the Department of Home Affairs in its administration of those acts. This is a classic noble lie, designed to sow discord with the existing paradigm, loosening its roots and eventually unplugging it.

“The problem confronting Motsoaledi is how he is to deal on the public record with the fact that far too many senior officials responsible for the administration of Home Affairs’ functions are corrupt and that their machinations were responsible for the granting of citizenship to the Guptas.”

As for democracies that have combined immigration, citizenship, and refugee affairs into a single legislative instrument, they exclude Austria, Canada, Brazil, Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Japan, Spain, Netherlands, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and the US. The reason these democracies have not sought to do so is that they cover separate areas of policies, each administered by different bureaucratic levers, which cannot be combined on a practical level. Those democracies have sought to keep these areas separate to prevent the sort of havoc Motsoaledi speciously ascribes to South Africa’s present legislative architecture.

Again, this idea of combining our three acts of Parliament to bring a stop to a fictitious havoc is another lie, but a useful one. Motsoaledi attempts to stem the flow of unbridled blame and finger-pointing of civil society and our apex courts at Home Affairs into a different direction: that the way Parliament has chosen to legislate in these areas of immigration, citizenship and refugees since at least 1949 is discordant with international best practice, disharmonious, and should thus be replaced with a new ideological paradigm for dealing with foreign nationals.

Dutton asked Motsoaledi how the new system will protect people who want permanent residence or citizenship. He responded that his new system will protect, not individuals, but the law and procedures, and the “the integrity and the sovereignty of our country”. He then added that corruption has led us to this point. But the minister’s utterances, while sounding intellectually and politically so profound, are false flags.

The Public Protector’s report concluded that Home Affairs officials misled Gigaba with their flawed submissions to support the granting of citizenship by early naturalisation in terms of Section 5(9)(b) of the Citizenship Act to Ajay Gupta and family members. Those officials included the then director-general, the deputy director-general, and a chief director, but their culpability did not inquinate the minister.

Motsoaledi’s suggestion that his new paradigm will protect the integrity of the law and South Africa’s sovereignty, not individuals, turns out to be nothing more than an irrational mumble of words. Law is not an automaton making independent decisions, decoupled from human actors, as if it existed in some imagined levitating bubble. Officials of the public administration, subject to those values contained in Section 195(1) of the Constitution, are empowered by legislation to carry out various functions. This is how legal systems work in every constitutional democracy, no less Home Affairs within our Bill of Rights.

The problem confronting Motsoaledi is how he is to deal on the public record with the fact that far too many senior officials responsible for the administration of Home Affairs’ functions are corrupt and that their machinations were responsible for the granting of citizenship to the Guptas. The wholesale resignation, suspension and arrest of senior Home Affairs officials for corruption continues unabated. The truth is that nothing Motsoaledi and his policy advisers will do in the rewriting of the legislative script could ever erase the risk of administrative malfeasance and moral pollution which has for so long punctuated Home Affairs, and other government departments.

There is one more question Motsoaledi should answer: how will his new system of regulating the influx and status of foreigners be safeguarded against himself, as the propagator of the noble lies of Home Affairs’ ideological revolution?

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