Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) expressed its concerns about recent remarks by Home Affairs Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, before Parliament on Tuesday September 2022.
The comments were made while the minister was giving an update on the Bushiri investigation. Motsoaledi said an investigation was also underway to determine how Timothy Omotoso, a Nigerian who is facing multiple charges of rape and human trafficking, had obtained South African residency.
Motsoaledi is reported as saying: “We are saying they must come only as visitors, but as visitors who can perform work. This change means there’s no avenue available for these religious workers to migrate to permanent residence status”.
The department has announced that it will be clamping down on foreign nationals who are looking to perform religious work in South Africa. Minister Motsoaledi said that such religious workers would no longer be eligible for work permits, or permanent residency, in South Africa.
“While the charges brought against Bushiri and Omotoso are indeed grave, these examples should not be used to paint all foreign nationals who perform religious work as criminals — this is a false and rather xenophobic picture”, said FOR SA’s executive director, Michael Swain. “A crime is a crime, irrespective of who commits it.”
FOR SA’s view is that the state is allowed to decide who it allows into the country and for what purpose. This applies to a tourist on a tourist visa who is not allowed to work, as well as to someone who is granted [e.g.] a special skills work visa. Equally, once a person is permitted to enter South Africa, they need to abide by the conditions of their visa, or face deportation and/or other lawful sanctions.
However, the state cannot unfairly discriminate against foreign nationals who want to come in to work as religious workers in comparison to foreign nationals who want to come into work in other sectors. Fair criteria and assessment should be used in each work visa category to ensure that legitimate applicants can obtain work visas. A blanket ban on foreign religious workers would arguably, therefore, be unconstitutional.
FOR SA also notes that the religious freedom right guaranteed by section 15 of the South African Constitution applies equally to all people who live in South Africa. As a consequence, a foreign national living in this country has the same right to express and live out his/her faith as any other South African citizen.
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