Rumours on social media about an anticipated raid by immigration officials sparked fears and renewed frustration among Grahamstown’s immigrant community this week.
On Tuesday tweets from education and social activist Nomalanga Mkhize warned that immigration officials had been spotted driving around town and that a raid appeared to be imminent.
The series of tweets on Tuesday 19 November from @NomalangaSA went as follows:
- Kuthiwa oMy Friend baya-raidwa nguHome Affairs namhlanje eRhini, kuthiwa oMy Friend bazivalile ishop zabo bayabaleka. Inyani leyo?
[People are saying that Home Affairs is raiding ‘Oh my friend’ (Somali immigrants) today in Grahamstown. They say they’re closing up their shops and running away. Is that true?]
- Kuthiwa i-van yakwa home affairs ibusy ichecka amaphepha.
[People are saying that the Home Affairs van is busy checking documents.]
When Grocott’s Mail went to the area there were no reports of arrests; however, several foreign business man who ply their trade in Grahamstown accused the government’s Department of Home Affairs of unconstitutional treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers.
Muhamed Inshar, who operates a spaza shop in Vukani, said, “I saw them in town but I’m not worried because I have all the legal documents. But they must stop harassing us.”
Manager of Home Affairs in Grahamstown Xolile Sibejele said officials operate under the Immigration Act. Sibejele said their operations are top secret, to which only officials of the inspectorate section are privy.
“They don’t consult anyone and don’t even alert us and it is their lawful right to pounce when they are least expected,” Sibejele said.
The most recent local raid operations were in Port Alfred in October and in Grahamstown during the National Arts Festival.
“It is standard procedure to conduct these operations, especially during the National Arts Festival, as we see an influx of immigrants in Grahamstown,” he said.
Somalian-born Diriye Horor Aden spoke at length to Grocott’s Mail on behalf of his compatriots.
Aden, who works at a wholesaler on Beaufort Street, said it doesn’t make sense that as asylum seekers they’re required to travel to the Home Affairs regional offices in Port Elizabeth every three months to renew their documents.
Originally from the Somalian capital of Mogadishu, he has been living in South Africa for 20 years.
“Travelling up and down every three months is costing us and is an insult as we contribute to the economy of this country,” he said.
Aden points out that according to the South African constitution “a foreign citizen who stays in this country for more than a period of five years becomes a South African, but we don’t see that happening”.
He even has a child here with a Xhosa woman.
“On the birth certificate of my daughter I’m not recognised as the father,” he said, “and that is wrong.”
Aden is in possession of a refugee status document, which is renewable over a period of four years. He said home affairs officials have always told him to bring a passport.
“Where am I going to get a passport?” he said, “because there’s a prolonged war in my country which has been happening since 1991.
“There’s no government in Somalia and no Somalian embassy here in South Africa,” he added.
Sibejele said the only refugee reception centre in the province is in Port Elizabeth.
“It is a top-level decision and as employees of this district office in Grahamstown there’s nothing we can do,” he said.
People who flee from wars in their home countries are granted an asylum seekers’ permit on three months’ probation, Sibejele explained, but don’t qualify for citizenship.
The government introduced tough restrictions on the Immigration Act to avoid fraud.
“After we discovered that some of them arrange fake marriages with South Africans in order to gain citizenship we made amendments,” Sibejele said.