Malusi Gigaba. Picture: THE TIMES
Malusi Gigaba. Picture: THE TIMES

The Department of Home Affairs is crying out for a competent, effective and efficient leader to repair its image among its multifarious stakeholders and restore its dignity and standing at the core of the South African democratic project.

As pressure mounts on the minister, Malusi Gigaba, it is worth taking pause to consider the ideals and competencies a successor would embody.

There have been eight separate tenures in the home affairs portfolio since the dawn of democracy in 1994. Aside from the nearly 10-year tenure of Mangosuthu Buthelezi between 1994 and 2004, most home affairs ministers had short-lived careers and little to show in the way of positive results.

The exception has been Naledi Pandor’s largely productive and collaborative time as political head of the department, but since then it has suffered a succession of ill-fated and often disastrous appointees, culminating in the recent reappointment of one Malusi Nkanyezi Gigaba.

He is facing a barrage of questions that cast severe aspersions on his character, integrity and ability to live up to the ideals of the new dawn President Cyril Ramaphosa presented in his state of the nation speech in February.

Several rights organisations and members of the public have taken it upon themselves to resist and fight the department’s shortcomings, from attempted sit-ins at the home affairs offices in Randburg to legal action to force the reopening of the Cape Town refugee reception office

In addition to his questionable handling of the Gupta family’s permanent residency application, Gigaba is battling accusations from all corners — as an enabler of state capture at state-owned enterprises during his time as public enterprises minister; as a stooge for the Guptas in their fight for control over a private terminal at OR Tambo International Airport; and as a liar who, according to the High Court in Pretoria, "violated the Constitution" when he falsely asserted that he never gave approval to the Oppenheimer family’s application to establish a VIP facility at OR Tambo.

Several rights organisations and members of the public have taken it upon themselves to resist and fight the department’s shortcomings, from attempted sit-ins at the home affairs offices in Randburg to legal action to force the reopening of the Cape Town refugee reception office.

Gigaba’s position at home affairs is clearly untenable. He simply must go.

And, if Ramaphosa’s own expression of concern over the high court ruling is any indication, he too is nearing the end of his patience with the minister.

However, before Gigaba is booted out of home affairs (and presumably shunted into a succession of parliamentary inquiries into his role in various underhanded activities over the past few years), I wish to implore Ramaphosa to take great care in choosing his successor.

The Department of Home Affairs plays a central role in ensuring the stability and success of our nation.

It is of the utmost importance that a competent, diligent and collaborative person be appointed to lead the department.

Numerous ill-conceived policies implemented in a thoughtless manner in complete disregard to the very people the department is meant to serve have eroded the trust between the department and its stakeholders. Inconsistent application of prevailing legislation and policies have sown confusion among South Africans and foreigners alike, severely limiting our ability to attract and retain much-needed foreign skills and investment.

It is a betrayal of Ramaphosa’s vision of a new dawn for our country; the department is essentially undermining broader economic efforts to encourage foreign direct investment and boost job creation and growth across multiple sectors.

The poor treatment of our African brothers and sisters from other nations has led to untold misery and heartache for tens of thousands of people who came to SA in search of a better life.

Many of the foreigners we work with have spent years — sometimes a decade — jumping through every regulatory hoop the department can conceive of and are still no closer to attaining the permanent residency or citizenship for which they aspire.

Gigaba’s recent promise to find some form of resolution for the long queues experienced at home affairs offices is little more than a publicity stunt. What good is a short queue when the actual applications are misplaced, denied for no good reason or simply put into a spin cycle of bureaucracy that leaves no hope for resolution months or even years later?

The president is a celebrated technocrat, someone able to navigate the pressures and complexities of the boardroom as well as the nuances of political life.

It is time a similarly competent person is installed at the department, someone who can inspire a new era of public service excellence and collaboration with the many stakeholders within the home affairs value chain.

• De Saude-Darbandi is founder and director of De Saude Attorneys.

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