When A Country Goes Bad

December 21, 2019
Iain MacLeod

A few weeks ago I had an email exchange with a very senior immigration manager and I asked why evidence being presented by South Africans with their visa applications was being scrutinised more than ever before. He said, “because they lie”. That struck me as a bit harsh.

While part of me wanted to believe that South Africans are no more likely to lie in visa applications and present false documents than migrants in general, the evidence is starting to mount that South Africans have earned a reputation for being more likely to act fraudulently than most other migrants. I am aware that, sadly, in South Africa today, it is more than just qualifications, National identity cards and driver’s licenses that can be purchased and has extended to official documentation such as visas and even passports. Even a decade ago this sort of thing never happened, now it happens more and more. While desperate people do silly things, it is more a story about corrupt civil servants in South Africa providing sustenance to a need.

What the senior manager was really alluding to is the sad reality that the South African government itself has become so corrupt that at the Department of Home Affairs as it is known that birth certificates can be purchased, passports can be bought and SA residency can also be had for a reasonable sum.

Earlier this year we had two families each with a number of children, some of whom INZ’s ‘sources’ (meaning someone inside Home Affairs), suggested might not have genuine birth certificates. The only way we could prove who the parents were of these children was to have them DNA tested. It was no surprise to the parents that after waiting some months the children turned out to be their own but that is what it has come to. Such is the level of the New Zealand government’s paranoia at what is going on in South Africa that even birth certificates are coming under scrutiny.

On the most recent trip to South Africa one of my colleagues consulted with a Zimbabwean national who had secured a job in New Zealand and following the filing of his (own) Work Visa application received a letter from NZ’s Immigration Department questioning how he got his resident visa in South Africa. When my colleague questioned him more closely on how he secured it, it turned out that he had gone to the Visa Application Centre (VAC) which receipts applications for the South African government and basically handed over a wad of cash with his passport and 30 minutes later he had a South African residency visa in his passport. His passport it appears, didn’t even make it to the Department of Home Affairs! There is no way he did not know he was buying residency and naturally we declined to represent him.

I think it fair however for INZ to view South Africa in terms of pre-1994 standards and post. Corruption on the scale that we now see in South Africa was not common before 1994 and I rather suspect it would have been virtually impossible to buy residency of the country or a birth certificate, let alone a passport. How things have changed however.

A week ago in the sort of place you might least expect to see evidence of corruption my wife and I came face to face with it. We were enjoying a few days at a game reserve before flying home to NZ. After a morning game drive, the track back to where we were staying was blocked by a white Bakkie (utility vehicle).

Two men were out of the vehicle (an absolute no-no in a game reserve) and one was frantically waving us back the way we came. Our driver was confused but it was fairly obvious that the increasingly aggressive of the two wanted us out of sight. He demanded we reverse back the way we had come. Our driver did so and we almost made it around the bend but we could still see the Bakkie parked on the road up ahead. The man who had ordered our driver had slipped a green Ranger Parks Board shirt on over his red T-shirt.

After two or three minutes they waved us forward and they reversed so we could pass. The legs of at least two dead antelope were sticking out from the tray of this vehicle. Clearly these two (white) men were poaching this protected species.

We had gone only a few metres past them when we heard another rifle shot. They felt so emboldened they kept shooting these creatures despite our not yet being out of sight. It must have been like shooting fish in a barrel given these animals are all habituated to vehicles.

It was to say the least very concerning but equally the lack of interest shown by the management of the reserve we were staying in (adjacent to the game reserve and not in it) was downright depressing.

We had taken the registration number of the vehicle and given it to them. It seems they did absolutely nothing with that information.

Thinking perhaps this was an isolated incident we became even more shocked when talking to other travellers a few days later who witnessed the same two men shooting the same species of antelope and loading them into the back of the same vehicle. They counted three dead Nyala – a species relatively common in northern game reserves in South Africa but threatened across its natural range.

There are only two public gates into and out of this game reserve and they are guarded by Park Rangers. Civil servants to be sure but ones you might hope cared for the animals they are paid to protect. There is literally no way you could get a Bakkie full of dead Antelope out of that game reserve without the gatekeepers turning a blind eye. They were clearly being paid to let these guys in and out.

The alternative was the lodge we were staying in adjacent to the national park were in on it as they have a couple of private access gates that allow access to the park. That didn’t seem the case as the second sighting of these poachers was the bakkie roaring past one of these gates which suggested they weren’t paying off the private land holders to get access. It was almost certainly the game rangers of the national park itself.

Although I sometimes find it frustrating that South Africans are treated with suspicion now with visa applications there is no doubt that the public service in South Africa is rotten to its core. The fact the National Park employees are going to allow poachers to act with impunity inside game reserves makes an already sad situation involving the country one that fills me almost with a sense of despair.

If everything is for sale in the country what hope can that be for any kind of future? I guess that’s why almost 600 families are currently engaged with our services to get them to NZ or Australia. They can leave but the animals are stuck.

I don’t often make broadcasts on behalf of the NZ Government but the word needs to get out – if you try and present false documents to the NZ Government you will very likely get caught – no matter where you come from. If you come from South Africa they are likely going to look at your evidence more closely because experience tells them they need to. They take it seriously and you don’t get second chances.

On that rather depressing note 2018 is drawing to a rapid close and by the time you read this we will have closed for the year. We will be reopening on January 7.

To those of you who are still engaged in the process of migration, hang in there, it will all be worth it in the end.

For those of you about to enjoy your first Kiwi Christmas I hope it is enjoyable one.

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