My future is officially in the hands of South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs, which is a moderately frightening realization. I just turned in an application to extend my visa so that I will be able to stay in the county for several more months. I am still planning to come back to the States in October, but I want to continue with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to increase the complexity and depth of my work.
While many SAHRC inquiries are complaints against government departments, my personal experience with Home Affairs helped me further understand what expect from South African government departments. While help desk workers weren’t the most enthusiastic to speak with me on my four visits to Home Affairs, they did eventually assist me. Information about my visa was not the easiest to access, but it was available and standardized. Also, I was expecting terribly long queues, and for my application to be rejected at first, but I had little trouble turning in my visa. However, my experience and circumstances are fairly different than many of SAHRC’s complainants.
When South African government departments refuse to serve the needs of complainants, the SAHRC sometimes refers them to the Office of the Public Protector (OPP). The OPP is also a Chapter 9 institution, which means that it, too, is apart from government and gains its powers and mandate from the South African Constitution. However, a larger issue now is that some government departments are refusing to respond to the SAHRC’s allegations and to make changes to policies and procedures that create violations of human rights.
While the SAHRC has the power to subpoena, the Commission makes an effort to exhaust all due processes first. Due to several government departments noncompliance with the SAHRC, the Commission has moved to escalate many complaints to the national department ministers. However, due to pressures from Parliament, several departments have become far more responsive to SAHRC request.