Simba Chitando refuses to back down, says Zim nationals have been defrauded by government officials of over R1bn. From Moneyweb.
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has demanded an apology, R200 000 and the deletion of all tweets posted by Advocate Simba Chitando in which he claims to have been defamed.
The allegedly defamatory tweet referenced an SABC (SA Today) interview in which Chitando is claimed to have accused Motsoaledi of misappropriating millions of rands paid by Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders.
He has refused to back down, apologise or delete his tweets – doubling down with this response to a Twitter user:
Speaking to Moneyweb Chitando adds: “I shall continue to discharge my brief to pursue justice for Zimbabwean nationals who are victims of human rights violations, and looting by officials in the South African government, notwithstanding unprecedented acts of intimidation.”
Chitando is bringing a case against the minister and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) over the decision to suspend the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) system, which allowed 178 000 Zimbabweans to work in SA.
The ZEP Holders Association (Zepha) argues in papers before the Gauteng High Court that holders of the permit must be issued with South African ID documents and declared permanent residents.
One of the reasons given by DHA for the suspension of the ZEP scheme was cost of running the system.
Zepha counters that the ZEP system is massively profitable for SA, generating R374 million in fees paid by Zimbabweans since 2009, not counting fees earned from unsuccessful applicants.
“Zimbabwean nationals have been defrauded by South African government officials in an amount north of R1 billion, which rises daily,” says Chitando. This refers to bribes Zimbabweans are forced to pay DHA officials to enter SA.
According to papers before the court, the DHA requested R145.8 million from National Treasury to start the special programme of granting exemptions for SADC (Southern African Development Community) nationals, but only R15 million was granted.
Chitando argues this is irrelevant, as the fees generated from ZEP applicants was far in excess of the amount requested by the DHA.
The decision to suspend the ZEP system, which has existed in various forms since 2009, means tens of thousands of Zimbabweans who fled economic and political turmoil may find themselves undocumented immigrants in SA, at risk of being deported unless they qualify for alternative SA visas by the end of 2022.
“The permit scheme is a grotesque shakedown of an ethnic minority, no different from fascists of old, shamelessly cashing in on potentially billions of rands from mostly Zimbabwean migrants,” Chitando tells Moneyweb.
“I have been asked by Zimbabwean nationals, not just ZEP holders, who have been extorted for bribes by officials in the DHA, to seek justice for this the biggest fraud in African history, which persists,” adds Chitando in a statement.
Chitando also disputed a statement by Motsoaledi that Zepha had withdrawn its case and repeated the accusation that Zimbabweans had been defrauded of hundreds of millions of rands. The accusations of fraud against the minister were repeated on the SABC.
A letter of demand to Chitando from attorneys Sigogo, which represents Motsoaledi, said the offending tweets create the impression that the minister “committed fraud and theft of monies paid by the Zimbabwean nationals,” abused state resources, is a thief and liar.
Chitando should have been aware that the minister “does not have access to the monies paid by foreign nationals for granting exemptions to Zimbabwean nationals by successive Minister of Home Affairs,” says Sigogo.
He was given 24 hours to remove all defamatory statements, apologise and pay a sum of R200 000 which would be donated to charity.
Chitando to fight on
Rather than backing down, Chitando instructed his attorneys MSM & Associates to advise the minister that he “stands by the evidence, and argument, before the court that ZEP holders have been defrauded by the South African government. Your client (Motsoaledi) is an official in that government.”
Chitando’s attorney Sindiso Sibanda says his client has a constitutional right to update his clients, “of whom there are many, on the status of pending litigation, on a platform of his choice, including social media. Your client has no right to regulate the legal advice our client provides to his clients.”
The threat of bringing an urgent application before the court unless Chitando complies with the minister’s demands is an attack on the legal profession generally. It is also inconsistent with the Constitution and is a threat to the rule of law, says MSM & Associates, in response to the minister’s demands.
“Any further acts of intimidation, and/or actions to silence our clients, will be vigorously opposed,” says Sibanda.