An urgent court order granted in the North Gauteng High Court this week made it clear judges will not tolerate government officials ignoring court orders.
Judge Segopotje Mphahlele granted an order which would have seen the director-general and deputy director-general of Home Affairs go to jail for three months unless they complied with a court order granted a month ago in favour of a Chinese academic who grew up in South Africa.
Dr Yingwen Zhang, a post-doctoral fellow at the CSIR National Laser Centre in Pretoria, last month obtained an urgent court order forcing Home Affairs to issue a South African passport or emergency passport to him.
When Home Affairs officials simply ignored the order, he asked the court to imprison Home Affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni and deputy director-general Vusumuzi Mkhize unless they complied with it. Judge Mphahlele gave them 48 hours to comply, failing which she ordered the sheriff to arrest Apleni and Mkhize and hand them to Pretoria Central Prison to be detained for three months. She also granted a punitive costs order against them.
The two barely made the deadline and Zhang’s attorney only received a message yesterday that he could collect his passport. Zhang was born in China, but came to South Africa in 1994, was granted a certificate of naturalisation in 2003 and obtained a passport in 2004. But Home Affairs refused to let him apply for a new passport when it expired as he was “under investigation”.
His attorney Andries Stander said in an affidavit officials in the department were powerless to issue the passport because Apleni and Mkhize refused to provide them with the authorisation. “(Their) conduct … is yet another example of senior government officials who in a contemptuous manner flout the constitution and the laws of the Republic of South Africa by wilfully and without any justification failing to comply with a valid and binding court order. Public interest demands … that such unlawful behaviour be dealt with swiftly,” he said.
Zhang missed two major international conferences, was unable to visit his research collaborators in Canada and would miss the largest conference on laser technology in America next year unless he had a passport.