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Minister Motsoaledi threatens to sue Zimbabwe permit holders’ lawyer Chitando for defamation

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER: Simba Chitando

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  • Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi plans to sue the lawyer representing a group of Zimbabwe Exemption Permit holders.
  • If the lawyer does not withdraw his tweets and comments, Motsoaledi will seek R200 000 from him for defamation.
  • But the lawyer, Simba Chitando, said he would not back down. 

Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi intends to lodge a damages claim against a lawyer representing Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders who are challenging the cancellation of the permit. 

Advocate Simba Chitando told News24 that Motsoaledi demanded that he withdraw comments to the media and delete comments on social media about millions the department had apparently made from ZEP holders.

“The minister also demands that I pay him R200 000 on the grounds that my legal arguments are defamatory,” Chitando said in a statement.

Spokesperson for the minister, Siya Ooza confirmed the minister’s intentions.

“The minister has instructed his attorneys to issue a defamation cease and desist letter against Mr Simba Chitando,” Ooza said.

Ooza added:

The minister’s lawyers will proceed to launch an application in the [Gauteng] High Court…in Johannesburg against Mr Chitando.

Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi

The minister takes issue with Chitando’s statements that according to affidavits the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) filed, it told Treasury that R145 803 928 was required for the Zimbabwe exemption programme. He was told that Treasury only made R15 million available to the DHA, so the ZEP programme was not sustainable. 

However, Chitando’s view is that the money paid by an estimated 180 000 ZEP holders, excluding unsuccessful applicants, at R1 090 each, amounted to around R200 million.

Chitando said during media interviews that the state committed “fraud” against the citizens of another country.

This is what Motsoaledi wants him to withdraw. 

Excerpts of Chitando’s tweets and statements include a comment to SABC that Motsoaledi’s case is that the ZEP programme is an expense to the state, yet the ZEP holders are paying for the process themselves.

A letter of demand from Motsoaledi’s lawyers, which News24 has seen, states that the minister is held in high esteem and that he has taken a firm stance against corruption.

Motsoaledi’s lawyers contend that Chitando’s remarks defame the minister and impair his reputation and dignity. They also take issue with Chitando’s comment that Motsoaledi is a liar, which he made during an announcement that the Zimbabwe Permit Holders Association (ZEPA), represented by Chitando and his attorneys, had withdrawn their application for a review of the decision to end the permits.

The lawyer also states that Motsoaledi does not have access to the money because it goes to the National Revenue Fund. The letter explains that VFS Global processes the applications for a fee of R1 090, with the DHA covering the costs of the printing of the permits and paying staff overtime for processing them.

If Chitando does not withdraw his tweets and comments, Motsoaledi will seek R200 000 from him for defamation, which is to be donated to a charity, the letter states.

The DHA announced last year that its ZEP category of residence would be terminated by the end of December 2021, spreading panic among the Zimbabwean immigrant community. They worried about whether their bank accounts would be frozen and work contracts would be renewed, and what would happen to their children’s education and study. 

ZEP holders have to apply for one of the “mainstream” visas available, like work, study, and spousal visas, in an offering that leans towards people who have skills critical to South Africa.

The DHA has given them a year’s “grace” to apply for these visas, and if they have not been successful by the end of 2022, they have to leave the country or face deportation.

Chitando is representing clients in the ZEPA, with the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) also working to challenge aspects of the ZEP-to-visa plan. 

The HSF was lambasted by Motsoaledi in a statement in which he accused NGOs of trying to take over the work of the government.

Chitando said he was facing similar vitriol. 

“The minister’s threat to gag me from updating my clients on litigation that affects them comes after he: attacked the Helen Suzman Foundation; claimed that human rights organisations are giving Zimbabweans false hope; welcomed the withdrawal of African Amity NPC – [which] withdrew their application after intimidation – and wrongly claimed that the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit Holders Association withdrew their application,” he wrote in the statement. 

He added:

All done to avoid being held to account, in a court of law, for the most inhuman administrative decision in South Africa since apartheid.

He said he would not back down. 

“I will not cease and desist from updating my clients on the status of litigation against the minister. I will pursue my instructions in full, and will never give up.”

–News24

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