Sipho Mabena

By Sipho Mabena

Premium Journalist

Home affairs minister says the law instructs police to ascertain immigration status, not him

Motsoaledi says had those who wrote the story cared to find the facts, they would have realized that he was merely responding to a query

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has rubbished claims that he instructed police to conduct spot checks and ascertain immigration status of foreign nationals as misleading.

The minister said it was the Immigration Act that empowered the police to conduct spot checks to ascertain immigration status.

The Act states that 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.

If on reasonable grounds the immigration officer or police officer is not satisfied that such person is entitled to be in the country, such person may be interviewed by an immigration officer or a police officer about his or her identity or status.

The immigration officer or police officer may take such person into custody without a warrant and shall take reasonable steps 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.

“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 evident that no law enforcement officer needs any instruction from a Minister to pursue their work,” the minister said

Furthermore, the Act provides that any person who assists a foreign national to evade the processes contemplated in that subsection, or interferes with such processes is guilty of an offence.

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Motsoaledi said regulations go on to guide law enforcement officers on how to apply the Act; including what steps to take to verify the identity or status of a person.

These include access to 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 necessary means for the person to obtain the documents that may confirm his or her identity and status.

The minister said the method of accessing departmental records was given a boost during the preparations for the 2010 World Cup when a 24-hour centre was established.

He said any law enforcement officer who wants to verify the identity of a person on the spot did 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, Motsoaledi said, they can telephone 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,” he said.

Motsoaledi said those who wrote these stories about him instructing police had cared to find the facts, they would have realized that he was merely responding to a query by a member of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs on Tuesday.

He said the member had complained that a person was put in custody for the whole weekend waiting for Home Affairs officials to confirm whether they were documented or not.

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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 [blame] 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 load shedding at the moment and that is enough, we cannot afford journalism shedding too” Motsoaledi added.