South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has condemned vigilantes in his country for demanding that foreign nationals produce identification.
In a letter to South Africans, Ramaphosa reminded his compatriots that only a police member or immigration officer can ask for identity documents.
This comes after a Zimbabwean national, Elvis Nyathi, was brutally murdered by a mob in Diepsloot, Johannesburg on Wednesday last week after he failed to produce identity documents.
Anti-immigrant activists under Operation Dudula have also been moving door-to-door in several parts of South Africa kicking undocumented foreigners out of their homes.
Ramaphosa assured South Africans that his government was prioritising the enforcement of migration legislation. Part of his letter read:
No private citizen may assume the role of immigration or law enforcement authorities by demanding that foreign nationals produce identification.
Under Section 41 of the Immigration Act, only a police member or immigration officer can ask someone to identify themselves as a citizen, permanent resident or foreign national.
If these officers believe, on reasonable grounds, that the person is in the country unlawfully, they may be detained while an investigation into their status is conducted.
When doing so, law enforcement authorities must respect that person’s rights and dignity. They may not do so in a manner that is degrading or humiliating.
Enforcement of migration legislation is a priority for the government. We are working to ensure that syndicates perpetrating immigration fraud in collusion with corrupt officials are brought to book. This year alone, several people implicated in passport fraud have been arrested.
No private citizen or group has the right to enter businesses and demand its owners produce proof that their businesses are registered or legal.
This is the competence of municipal, provincial or national authorities, including inspectors from the Department of Employment and Labour and the South African Revenue Service.
Like all other businesses, foreign-owned businesses must obey the relevant laws, including health and safety regulations, have all the required permits and licences, and pay the necessary taxes.
We are a democracy founded on the rule of law. Acts of lawlessness directed at foreign nationals, whether they are documented or undocumented, cannot be tolerated.
Attacking those we suspect of wrongdoing merely because they are foreign nationals is not an act of patriotism.
It is immoral, racist and criminal. In the end, it will lead to xenophobia, whose consequences we have lived through in previous years.
We do not want to go back there because in the main the people of South Africa are not xenophobic.