Perhaps it is befitting to start this statement with section 41 (1) of the Immigration Act 13 of 2002, which states that:
“(1) When so requested by an immigration officer or a police officer, any person shall identify himself or herself as a citizen, permanent resident or foreigner, and if on reasonable grounds such immigration officer or police officer is not satisfied that such person is entitled to be in the Republic, such person may be interviewed by an immigration officer or a police officer about his or her identity or status, and such immigration officer or police officer may take such person into custody without a warrant, and shall take reasonable steps, as may be prescribed, to assist the person in verifying his or her identity or status, and thereafter, if necessary detain him or her in terms of section 34.
(2) Any person who assists a person contemplated in subsection (1) to evade the processes contemplated in that subsection, or interferes with such processes, shall be guilty of an offence”
From this Act it is evident that no law enforcement officer needs any instruction from a Minister to pursue their work. The Act itself gives such an instruction and this has been happening for the past 20 years since 2002. Law enforcement officers have been applying this Act since that period at roadblocks, in factories, agricultural establishments, hospitality industry, trucking industry and anywhere within the borders of the Republic.
The Regulations go on to guide law enforcement officers on how to apply the Act.
Regulation 37 says that:
“An immigration officer or police officer shall take the following steps in order to verify the identity or status of the person contemplated in section 41(1) of the Act:
- access relevant documents that may be readily available in this regard;
- contact relatives or other persons who could prove such identity and status;
- access Departmental records in this regard;
- or provide the necessary means for the person to obtain the documents that may confirm his or her identity and status”
The method of accessing Departmental records as contemplated in (c) above was given a boost during the preparations for the World Cup in 2010 when a 24-hour centre was established. Any law enforcement officer who wants to verify the identity of a person on the spot does not necessarily need to have a physical documentation of that person. If they are given an ID number or Passport number or any documentation number, they can phone the 24-hour centre and the identity they are looking for will be verified. It is only after exhausting such steps as described in the regulations that the police officer may find themselves having to arrest a person, if they still cannot ascertain their identity. The 24-hour centre is our proud legacy of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
If the people who wrote these stories had cared to find the facts, they would have realized that the Minister of Home Affairs Dr Aaron Motsoaledi was merely responding to a query by a member of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs on Tuesday, 20 September. The member complained that a member of the public was put in custody for the whole weekend waiting for Home Affairs officials to confirm whether he was documented or not. The Minister said that things did not have to be that way because there is a legal mechanism to check on the spot the documentation status of a person. The Act is self-explanatory and does not need to be interpreted.
“Anybody who is not aware that people have been identified in this manner since the Act was promulgated in 2002 cannot put a blame on me. Therefore, the media headlines and statements that suggest that I have given instructions to the police officers to stop people and ask for their identification is sensational and it tries to create a controversy where none exists. The country is suffering loadshedding at the moment and that is enough, we cannot afford journalism shedding too” said Minister Motsoaledi
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF HOME AFFAIRS