Due to the nature of, and functions performed by, the Department of Home Affairs, this department is incredibly vulnerable to corruption. Without an identity document or birth certificate, a person cannot apply for work, study, obtain a driving license or conduct most personal and professional affairs. This apportions a lot of power to officials holding sway over issuing such documents. Bribes to falsify identity documents and passports and deliver legitimate free services have therefore been the order of the day for a long time at this institution.
Its long list of iniquities, and those that go unreported, would of course be impossible to divulge in such a limited space. However, a damning 2015 report pointed out the Marabastad refugee office in Pretoria as a hotbed of corruption and bribery and one of the most corrupt Home Affairs offices in the country. The report, which was a collaborative effort by Lawyers for Human Rights and the African Centre for Migration and Society, found that a total of 51% of the respondents experienced corruption while queuing at the Marabastad office. Thirty percent said they were denied entry to the offices because they could not pay bribes. On weekdays between 500 and well over 1 000 people queue at the Marabastad office and the scale of the bribes becomes enormous. “Multiplied across the refugee system and over time, that equates to a river of money millions of rands wide,” writes Phillip de Wet in the Mail&Guardian on 24 July 2015.
Corruption Watch corroborated the extent of the rot at refugee reception offices. “This is a very deep-rooted system, it’s a whole economy on its own,” said the organisation’s Kabelo Sedupane. On average, asylum seekers have reported being forced to pay a minimum of four bribes to get their legal documents in order.
In addition, a 2012 report analysing the complaints lodged with the National Anti-Corruption hotline stated that corruption at the Department of Home Affairs took fourth place, with 781 cases reported since the hotline’s inception in 2004.
Twelve employees of the department have very recently been arrested on suspicion of corruption and fraud. Many other arrests have been made over the last two years in connection with corruption and it is heartening to see some effort being made to arrest this scourge.