Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi has revealed that several people involved in assisting immigrants come into or leave South Africa illegally have been arrested.
The eight people – including six Home Affairs officials, one police officer and one Mozambican woman (a hawker) – were nabbed for fraud and corruption.
The suspects carried out their operation at the Lebombo border post between South Africa and Mozambique in Mpumalanga.
Speaking to the SABC at the border post on Friday, Motsoaledi said the suspects had been under surveillance for 18 months with the investigation having started in 2019.
He said the investigation was conducted by Home Affairs’ counter corruption unit, which investigates wrongdoing by departmental officials, as well as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), also known as the Hawks.
“Out of a tip-off, we have heard that there is a scam here whereby passports of foreign nationals who were supposed to have gone back home are organised all over South Africa because their 90-day period of stay had expired in terms of Sadc [Southern African Development Community] protocol.
“In order to render that period useless, passports are acquired, brought by taxis here and they get stamped by these officials with the help of that lady from Mozambique who seems to be the runner and mastermind behind the scheme.
“[The passports then] get stamped and [are] brought back to South Africa [which means] the person is out the country. Any law enforcement who meets them believe they have just visited South Africa when they have been here for many days […] maybe years,” he said.
The minister explained that the arrests took quite some time to occur because Home Affairs and the Hawks wanted to obtain evidence “beyond any reasonable doubt”.
“There is a lot happening behind the scenes, but it takes a long time because we are dealing with rascals who know what they are doing and plan very well. So when we effect arrests, we can only do it after proof beyond any reasonable doubt, otherwise we will be the laughing stock in the courts,” he continued to say.
Motsoaledi had previously indicated that the net was closing in on border management officials.
Home Affairs officials suspended
In September, Home Affairs suspended five officials for their alleged role in helping fugitive Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) leader Shepherd Bushiri fraudulently acquire a South African permanent-residence permit.
The officials were also charged internally and will face disciplinary procedures.
Home Affairs also has been trying to find out whether monetary inducement was the reason behind the officials assisting Bushiri to get residency, TimesLive previously reported.
Motsoaledi told the portfolio committee on home affairs at the time that the investigation conducted by the department was centrally based into how Bushiri received his documents to become a permanent resident, rather than his escape to Malawi.