Home Affairs minister Hlengiwe Mkhize during her surprise visit in Pinetown Home Affairs. Picture: THULI DLAMINI
Home Affairs minister Hlengiwe Mkhize during her surprise visit in Pinetown Home Affairs. Picture: THULI DLAMINI

On Tuesday, Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize wriggled her way out of media questions about the sudden suspension of her director-general‚ Mkuseli Apleni, on Monday.

Mkhize‚ who paid a surprise visit to the Pinetown home affairs office‚ said she would not give reasons on Apleni’s precautionary suspension — but she justified her terse statement on Monday.

"There are stages in dealing with an inquiry. The first stage is the most important one where the matter is internal; it is closed to allow [for the] employer and employee relationship to be handled with sensitivity. So that’s the only reason I can give why we are so limited in terms of information. We are limited by the prescripts of public service that bind us‚" she said.

Apleni’s tenure as home affairs director-general has not been without controversy, but it remains unclear why Apleni was suspended‚ as the department provided no reasons for the move.

The department recently came under fire after it emerged that former home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba had granted the Gupta family citizenship despite a senior official having previously turned down the request. Apleni is believed to be among the officials who did not agree with the minister’s granting of citizenship to the controversial family.

Asked about the Gupta factor‚ Mkhize said everyone should be careful and not be driven by different agendas in dealing with the issue because "if you do that you end up losing credibility ... It’s so important to be driven by facts. The whole idea of an investigation and inquiry is about being factual in what we are talking about. Even myself, I’m ever cautious about this matter so that when I engage on the issue I must always know what I’m talking about".

The minister added that it would be premature for anyone to pronounce on internal processes. "We are really expected to treat matters with absolute integrity with respect for people’s concerns and make sure we are not driven by the public hype because it doesn’t help with processes of this kind‚" she said.

In June‚ Apleni admitted to Parliament’s portfolio committee on home affairs that the approved naturalisation of the controversial Gupta family was not tabled before Parliament‚ as required. However‚ he insisted that the process of naturalisation itself was above board.

At recent meetings in Parliament‚ Apleni also distanced himself from a letter circulating on social media pertaining to the naturalisation. He said the dates on the letter did not correspond with those in the actual naturalisation process‚ rendering its authenticity questionable. He told the committee that the Guptas applied for naturalisation as a family and that‚ according to the law‚ if one member of an applicant family does not meet the requirements for naturalisation‚ the entire family’s applications would be unsuccessful.

Asked if the matter would be discussed by Cabinet or if she would take it to Cabinet‚ Mkhize said: "I don’t set the Cabinet agenda so I don’t know what is on it."

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