Malusi Gigaba. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Malusi Gigaba. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Readers of the Financial Mail will be familiar with entrepreneur Dan Brotman’s writing about his experience in dealing with the Department of Home Affairs, including the familiar tales of indifference and lost applications.

That article was narrow in its focus, concerned mainly with the plight of relatively wealthy and skilled individuals, who in most cases, one presumes, can afford to pay for the legal expertise needed to get through their bureaucratic nightmares. That is if they don’t give up and find somewhere else where their skills and jobs they create are appreciated.

But this is by no means a problem for the elite. For every Brotman who can make himself heard, there are probably hundreds of refugees who are in a state of limbo, confronted by xenophobia and incompetence at every step, and are completely voiceless. In a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa to mark World Refugee Day in June, Lawyers for Human Rights described the department as having "very many harmful, unlawful and cruel practices and policies" that disregard the values of the Constitution.

If Gigaba knew how difficult it was for South Africans to get his department to issue birth certificates, would he remain convinced about the wisdom of making their possession a requirement for travel?

And South Africans from all backgrounds, from the middle-class holidaymaker travelling with kids to the young township kid who cannot go for a job because the department is unable to issue her with a birth certificate, the victims of home affairs’ incompetency are spread out across the country.

How insulting it must have been for those people to have to read Malusi Gigaba, the minister in charge, bemoaning red tape. Sometimes life really is stranger than fiction.

No reasonable person would disagree that "red tape makes it difficult for decisions to move speedily", or that as a result "things that need to move quickly, take forever". When the person making such a statement is the one who is responsible for their suffering, citizens would be well within their rights to assume that politicians are having a joke at their expense.

This is a minister whose obsession with one particular costly regulation is so complete that he is immune to evidence of the damage being inflicted on the economy.

While the rest of the country is supposed to be rallying together and seeking solutions to the unemployment problem, Gigaba has shown a bizarre commitment to stringent visa regulations that have been shown to have caused great harm. And the irony of the department making such demands, given its own inability to issue documents in a timely fashion, is also lost on the minister.

The indifference is not dissimilar to that displayed by business leaders who don’t use their companies’ services themselves and so have no idea of the customer experience.

If Gigaba knew how difficult it was for South Africans to get his department to issue birth certificates, would he remain convinced about the wisdom of making their possession a requirement for travel?

The complaint about the red tape was not the only bizarre thing that Gigaba said at the Black Business Council roundtable in Sandton on Friday.

The man who has also held offices of state as head of public enterprises and was briefly responsible for the nation’s finances after one of former president Jacob Zuma’s midnight purges, also complained about regular ministerial changes that created instability, noting that "we don’t even know whether we’re still going to be here to carry out these visions".

To say that everything that this particular minister has touched has not exactly turned to gold would be an understatement. Eskom and other state-owned enterprises are in a sorry mess that threatens to overwhelm the country’s finances, so much so that the government is asking banks to help revive them. At least at the National Treasury, he wasn’t there long enough to cause too much damage.

Considering that a court of law earlier in 2018 found that he lied under oath, and his role in the Gupta passport saga, most voters are probably wondering why Gigaba is still in government at all, whatever his vision is.