19 April 2021
My colleague, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Njabulo Nzuza
The Director-General of the Department of Home Affairs, Mr Tommy Makhode
Members of the public listening through various platforms
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen,
We invited you today to provide an update on the efforts of government and its partners to resolve the matter of protesters who are living in shelters in two centres in Cape Town, namely: Paint City and Wingfield.
These protesters are demanding one and only one thing – to be taken by the United Nations to a third country of resettlement.
You are aware that this has been going on for a long period, of two years now. For that two years, the matter has been receiving a lot of attention from the media and even Parliament, through the Portfolio Committee of Home Affairs.
Throughout that period, a lot of myths, misstatements, half-truths and deliberate distortions have been fed to the public and the international community about what actually is going on there.
Today we are going to try our level best to explain in detail the actual state of affairs and what the end game is going to be, for indeed there ought to be an end to this saga – nothing lasts forever
This press conference has been called after consultations with:
- The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
- The Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where more than 85% of the protesters originate from.
- The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).
- The South African Human Rights Commission.
- The Premier of Western Cape.
- The City of Cape Town.
While these structures may not be present in this press conference, they are well aware of this press conference and I have fully solicited their support for what I am going to say today.
I need to take you through the long history of this well-orchestrated and self-created saga so that you understand fully why it will have to end up where it will in two weeks time.
Please be patient with me.
For ease of understanding, I am bound to take you through the asylum seeker and refugee processes in South Africa. South Africa is a signatory to the United Nations Convention of 1951 and the 1969 OAU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. Under the convention a person deserves international protection if they qualify under the following criteria:
- Running away from a country where there is war, or strife
- Being persecuted on political, religious, traditional believes or practices and sexual orientation grounds
- Being a dependant of someone who is seeking or is under international protection for the above reason
Four years after attainment of democracy in 1994, South Africa domesticated these international agreements by enacting the Refugees Act, Act 130 of 1998. This was followed by the Immigration Act, Act 13 of 2002.
Needless to say, all these acts were based on the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 0f 1996, and the International Conventions I have stated above.
Very deliberately the country, in its Constitution, acts of Parliament or policies opted for a policy of non-encampment, meaning people who migrate to South Africa for one reason or another shall not be put in camps or be subjected to life in a refugee camp.
Migrants were to be allowed to settle and live among communities and survive through means the community is surviving on.
This is extremely important to note because some people, even the media, have persisted on charactering the shelters in Cape Town as refugee camps. I repeat, there are no refugee camps anywhere in South Africa. But there are hundreds of thousands, even millions of refugees and asylum seekers living all over our cities, farms, rural areas and villages and none of them has been subjected to any camp.
So, what do we have in Cape Town?
A group of migrants, falling in different categories of the asylum seeker and refugee regimes of the country i.e. some have earned the status of refugees and are hence under international protection, some are asylum seekers still looking for international protection and others have come illegally in the country and are hence illegal immigrants under no legal regime. The groups came together and were holed up in the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town and claimed that they are being killed and need to be moved by United Nations to a third country of resettlement.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees made it clear right from the onset that such a demand will never be met because the resettlement to a third country happens under international law and under certain rules and conditions which the protesters didn’t qualify for.
During their unwelcome stay in the church the protesters split into factions which started fighting each other. These factions had ring leaders who fashioned themselves as refugee leaders.
One faction was led by Jean-Pierre Balus and his wife, Aline Bukuru.
The other faction was led by Papy Sukami and in their infighting one faction was ejected from the church by the other and settled in the open spaces around the church. Under the City’s laws, this was a breach of bylaws and the matter was taken by the City of Cape Town to court.
The court ruled that they be removed and the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, in a meeting attended by Whips of several parties, ruled that they be integrated back into communities and if they refuse, be repatriated back to country of origin.
This recommendation was given to the Department of Home Affairs, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the City of Cape Town and the South African Human Rights Commission which were all in attendance at that meeting which took place in Parliament on 10 March 2020. These entities were to work together to execute this task and were given 30 days to do so.
Unfortunately, two weeks into this 30 days, COVID-19 intervened. The country went to lockdown level 5 under the Disaster Management Act. Under the lockdown conditions, no human being in South Africa, national or non-national, could be allowed in the streets of this country or be allowed to be holed up in a church in such large numbers. Hence the protesters together with the homeless people of Cape Town were removed from the church and the streets of Cape Town to temporary shelters in Paint City in Bellville and Wingfield in Kensington.
You will have to strongly underline the word temporary shelter, for indeed, all the people, regardless of nationality were moved from the streets into shelters in cities all over the country.
None of them were moved under any refugee or any immigration act. It was under the Disaster Management Act. None of the shelters were designed as the so called refugee camps as it is commonly but wrongly believed.
When the country went down to lockdown level one, two government entities which were established to deal with immigration matters went down to the shelters to deal with the specific group of people who happened to be migrants but had not completed their asylum seeker processes before the lockdown. These government entities are the Refugee Appeals Authority of South Africa (RAASA) and Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs (SCRA).
The immigration officials in Home Affairs accompanied them. When the country went down to lockdown level one, there were 1580 people in both shelters. Of these people, 583 people have their asylum application rejected and have decided to appeal to the RAASA. Another 264 people have their appeals completed either way and work is still going on. Of the 1580 people 382 were rejected by Refugee Reception Officers as not qualifying for refugee status and are being reviewed by the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs and 174 of them have been finalised.
These facts reveal that there were some people who were in those shelters who do not qualify for international protection and there were others who have exhausted all the appeal processes applicable in terms of the Immigration Act and the Refugee Act. Such individuals were taken to court and subjected to the judicial system in terms of the laws of the country.
The judicial officers agreed with us that they need to be deported back to their countries of origin. Hence, 41 people were deported since South Africa went into lockdown level one in October last year.
The deported include the ring leaders of this rebellion who, as mentioned earlier, had fashioned themselves as refugee leaders fighting for a just cause for themselves and other protesting immigrants.
The deported include:
- Aline Bukuru who was deported on 31 of March 2021 that is slightly less than three weeks ago. You will remember her as the lady who appeared many times on TV channels of this country as a champion of refugees.
- Papy Sukami who was deported on the same day as Aline Bukuru. He used to lead the faction which was staying outside the church.
Another ring leader, Jean Pierre Balus, has also exhausted his appeal process and is liable for deportation but he is still in jail for several criminal activities. You will remember him as the man who caused mayhem in court and disrupted court proceedings when he appeared for criminal activities. As soon as his court processes are over, we shall deport him. He too has appeared several times in the media as a champion of refugees rights.
He is the husband of Aline Bukuru and they were working together to agitate the protesters.
I am mentioning these individuals because they are the ones who had promised fellow protesters a pie in the sky – that the harder they protest, the higher the chances they will be taken by United Nations to a third country of resettlement.
It is common cause that this country of resettlement they are targeting is Canada. We know that Canada has a region called Quebec which is a French speaking territory, a language spoken by most of the protesters. We also know that the social welfare system in Quebec is far more superior to what we can afford in South Africa.
That they have repeatedly and strenuously denied that they wish to go to Canada is not important for us to debate. It is important to understand that the process of being moved to a third country of resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is set in international law and governed by several agreements.
Firstly, a country presents itself to the United Nations as a country available to receive refugees for resettlement.
Secondly, such individuals need to apply as individuals and not as a group. The country of resettlement reserves the right to choose who must come in or not. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has absolutely no power to force any country to be a country of resettlement or to choose which individual qualifies to go there.
It is for these reasons that the UN has told the protesters many times, in letters and in physical meetings with them, that this dream of being resettled in the third country is very ill-conceived and is never going to happen, not now or at any other time.
Understandably the countries who usually avail themselves to the UN as countries of resettlement are rich or developed countries.
The people to be resettled must be individuals who have the status of refugees or asylum seekers in one country but for some stated reasons could no longer stay there.
I also need to mention that for the purpose of implementing Parliament’s resolution of the 10th of March 2020, a multidisciplinary team was formed. This teams consists of:
- The Department of Home Affairs
- The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure
- The Department of Social Development
- The Department of Health
- The South African Police Service (SAPS)
- The Western Cape Provincial Government
- The City of Cape Town
- The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
- The South African Human Rights Commission
Each of the teams have a specific role to play according to their mandate, which is mostly informed by Legislation. To shorten matters, I will specifically select the role being played by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
They concentrated on discussing with the protesters on two issues.
- Resettlement in communities in and around Cape Town
- Voluntary repatriation back to country of origin
I must state here without any fear of contradiction that the UNHCR has offered the protesters a very generous proposition. They have offered them that if they take the option of resettling in communities, the UN will pay for them 3 months of rental wherever they find accommodation. In addition the UN will supply them with food for that three months while they are finding their feet.
Let us remember that these protesters did not just fall from the sky. They were staying in communities. Some were gainfully employed and staying in decent accommodation. Their kids were going to school. They left all these because of the ill-conceived scam of promising people third country resettlement that will never ever happen.
We are aware that publicly the leaders of the protesters have claimed they are being attacked in communities and they have nowhere to go but to stay in the shelters and the streets.
We are also aware that most of the so-called xenophobic attacks never happened in Cape Town but happened more than a thousand kilometres up country. Nevertheless, this was used as tool to protest, as indicated by Judge Thulare in his judgment of 17 February 2020 in the case of the City of Cape Town against the protesters and their leaders Jean Pierre Balus and Papy Sukami.
The judge said:
“It appears to me that the illusionary self-governing territory of a make-shift slum settlement established by Balus, with a shadow opposition party led by Sukami, within the Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality in Greenmarket Square, Longmarket and Burg streets, is not sustainable. The protest is ungovernable. It is used to pursue unachievable goals and in my view amounts to abuse of the right to protest, which is a sacrosanct method to raise and pursue legitimate concerns. In essence, the City prays that the government of the affected area should move from the pretenders and their followers and return to the competent authority, to wit, the City of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality.”
The UNHCR further offered to help all those people who strongly feel that they can’t stay in South Africa and wish to go back to country of origin. Indeed the UNHCR approached another UN agency, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which offered each of the protesters who are willing to take this offer, a plane ticket back to the country of origin.
The country Director of UNHCR, Mr Leonard Zulu, informed me just before I came in this press conference, that 121 protesters have signed the offer of voluntary repatriation and are due to be flown by the IOM to DRC, Burundi and Ivory Coast.
I am also informed that 390 people have accepted the offer to be reintegrated back into communities. According to the UNHCR, they have arrived safely and have sent messages to the UNHCR informing Mr Zulu that they are grateful that they have been reintegrated.
Now why did we call you today?
We are aware that some individuals have publicly mentioned that they will not move until they are resettled in another country. Again the UNHCR has reiterated today that this is NOT going to happen.
Hence we have taken a decision that the UNHCR process and the IOM offer will be given a chance to unfold for only two weeks starting from Thursday, 15 April 2021.
Whoever chooses to stay after this period will be on their own as the government departments and agencies that are providing services will fold their activities after the expiry of this two week period.
Let me say to you, for your broader understanding, that the City of Cape Town had already taken the decision to remove the tents and ablution facilities on 15 April 2021 or Thursday last week. This, they were intending to do because they have received a very scathing report from the Auditor-General SA about their expenditure in offering services there.
An emergency meeting was convened on the morning of 15 April 2021 between the Department of Home Affairs and the Premier of Western Cape, Mr Alan Winde. The City was persuaded not to remove these facilities because such an action will disturb the process of the UNHCR and the IOM. But the city insisted that the decision has been taken and cannot be reversed. When the meeting took place it was 07:00 and the City action was due to take place at 09:00. It was then that, with a desire to salvage the UNHCR and IOM process, the Premier of Western Cape and the Home Affairs Department took a decision to pay for these facilities as a humanitarian gesture but they can only do so for two weeks.
You might be confused why we are saying humanitarian reasons. This is what I have actually told you earlier. The laws of this country do not cater for refugee camps. The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure had removed their facilities sometime back. Home Affairs then wrote to Treasury asking for money to take over the job of providing services. This was in July last year. The response from Treasury was that there is no law in the country that provides Home Affairs with a mandate to provide anybody, a national or non-national, with shelter and ablution facilities.
The letter went on to say, even if Home Affairs was able to raise money, as long as that money is from the fiscus, such an expenditure will immediately be declared irregular. The UNHCR then stepped in to provide these services but could only do so for a period of 90 days.
At the expiry of the 90 days, when requested to continue providing the services because there are still people there, they mentioned that they are having the same problem as State entities in South Africa. They said because within the UN family it is known that South Africa has no policy of encampment, the UNHCR country office in South Africa is not allowed by the mother body to budget for refugee camps because such by law does not exist. The money that enabled them to provide services for 90 days was a surplus from elsewhere within their programmes.
Let me remind people that South Africa is a country governed by laws and when the Auditor-General audits departments or entities they refer to the laws and not to emotions. This is how this problem needs to be understood.
Let me conclude by stating that in two weeks’ time, the ablution facilities will be removed because nobody will be able to pay for them and nobody is prepared to fund them outside the law as this is a serious offence under South Africa’s Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). Whoever chooses to remain in the open and in the streets without any shelter and facilities will obviously be breaking the law and will be dealt with by law enforcement agencies under the applicable legislation.
We are aware that as in the past this may lead to conflict between law enforcement agencies and such intransigent people but that situation cannot be left to continue any longer. Any reasonable person will agree that the South African state has been extremely patient and understanding but unfortunately this now ought to come to an end.
ISSUED BY DEPARTMENT OF HOME AFFAIRS