DA leader Mmusi Maimane and Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Johannesburg - If Cope formed part of a coalition government after next year’s general elections, its leader Mosiuoa Lekota says it would push for refugees and illegal immigrants to be placed in camps. Lekota spoke alongside DA leader Mmusi Maimane and other opposition leaders on the state of coalition partnership in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, where they removed the ANC from power in the 2016 local elections.

But the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) condemned Lekota’s remarks, saying it was against South Africa’s policy to separate and or isolate asylum seekers.

SAHRC spokesperson Gail Smith said: “Our country’s policy is one of integration, and working from an integrated perspective, which is why we don’t have camps and cordoned-off spaces. That completely flies in the face of the spirit of our constitution, and the rights of all individuals in the Republic.”

Maimane’s spokesperson Portia Adams said Lekota’s views were his, and not that of other coalition partners. Lekota said foreign nationals were being allowed to flood the country, adding that they now constituted the majority of the people who occupied buildings in cities like Joburg.

“We are not xenophobic, but it can’t be that any country that is concerned about its own citizens can leave its own citizens out there and open the best available positions, nearest to their jobs, and fill them up with people who come from other countries, and making it difficult for the people coming out of Soweto and other places like that to be immediately nearer to their work, to go and look for a job and live in better conditions,” Lekota said.

This comes as political parties are positioning themselves for next year’s elections, with opposition parties eyeing to challenge the ANC’s control at provincial and national level. Backed by leaders of the DA, African Christian Democratic Party and Freedom Front Plus, Lekota accused the provincial and national government of frustrating efforts by the DA-led coalition to address the immigration issue.

“We need to appreciate that unless opposition coalition accesses provincial and national space, where we can control people who come from other countries and say to them ‘well, you are welcome if you are refugees’, but let us set up refugee camps,” Lekota said.

“We were in exile ourselves. Our own South Africans were abroad. We were not allowed to occupy the cities of those countries and push the citizens out. South Africa must look after its own first and foremost.”

Lekota added that while refugees would be looked after under a DA-led coalition government, they would be located where they didn’t make it impossible for South Africans to run businesses, as many locals had closed their businesses due to unfair competition.

Maimane slammed the country’s borders as being porous, which he said enabled human and drug trafficking as they were not properly policed. Last year, Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba came under fire after he slammed the influx of illegal immigrants into the city, stating that they were not the responsibility of the country’s economic hub.

On Thursday, Maimane accused the Department of Home Affairs of failing to ensure that immigrants were documented, adding that not registering them properly was a violation of their rights.

“Let us get people registered at Home Affairs. Johannesburg inherits people who are moving into the city at a rate that we cannot keep up. Our objective for the mayor of Joburg is that when it comes to inner-city renewal, we have to be much more aggressive in the provision of a public good, which is housing for citizens of South Africa who are properly registered,” Maimane said.

ACDP national chairperson JoAnn Downs said the confiscation of hijacked buildings would help to reduce crime in Joburg. “It is for the governability of the city. We want our citizens to be able to walk down the street in the middle of Johannesburg next to any high-rise building and be safe and feel safe,” she said.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa was not in the meeting. He has accused the DA of bullying tactics after a leader of his party in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, Mongameli Bobani, was removed from his position over accusations of sabotaging the coalition.

The Star