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Hell Affairs – a South African was stuck in limbo for four years trying to prove her identity and citizenship
A mother of three had her ID blocked by Home Affairs – leaving her in anguish, and unable to live a normal life. Expensively obtained affidavits, letters and a DNA test left officials unmoved about the lack of progress for years.
Many South Africans have never considered what it would take to prove they are citizens of this land. For Thulisile Gumede, it took several trips from Gauteng to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), collecting affidavits from former teachers, a letter from her village chief and a DNA test. It also took four years of her life.
Gumede, a mother of three married to a Zimbabwean man, thought her ordeal was over when in 2022, Home Affairs confirmed it had unblocked her identity document.
Earlier, in 2017, when applying for her son’s identity document (ID), she found out that her ID had been blocked.
This meant all three of her children would not be able to get IDs, which turned into a particular nightmare for her son Lungani, who was in matric at the time.
“Every time he had to write an exam, he needed to bring an affidavit from the police explaining why he did not have an ID,” explained Gumede.
She visited the Vereeniging Home Affairs office to try to get her ID unblocked. Nobody could explain the reason for the blocking, but officials said she had to prove her South African status.
“My heart was so sore, I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Gumede was asked to attend a meeting at Home Affairs offices where she was asked which village she came from, the name of her chief and other details about her early life. “I was relaxed because I knew I am a South African.”
She recalled one of the officials remarked that her accent indicated she was a South African of Zulu descent. But this informal test was not enough to get her status back.
She had to travel to both her mother’s and father’s villages, in rural KZN, to get affidavits from teachers and letters from people who knew her.
“I grew up staying on my mom’s side and then, in Grade 10, I moved to my father’s side. I had to travel to both these places, Emangozi and KwaNgwanase. I needed to get my father’s documents,” she said.
Costs in time and money
All the while, time was ticking by. Trips to rural KZN were costing Gumede time and money, as she needed to take time off work and track down people who were no longer living in the same area.
Despite collecting the documents, Gumede was told she also needed to provide, and pay for, a DNA test with her mother.
“They said my mother does not appear on my ID document. So, I had to bring my mom from KZN. I had to pay for that and paid for the DNA test for me and her,” she said.
This evidence was submitted in 2018, but still nothing happened for years.
“I was sent around from pillar to post. I was praying all those years to let my identity come back to me. I was stuck. I was working but I was stuck. I couldn’t buy a car; I couldn’t buy a house.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: “High court orders Department of Home Affairs to register birth of stateless man after 10-year battle”
She felt embarrassed when colleagues talked about their progress in their lives.
“I felt lost. I felt like I am nothing. If you don’t have an identity you are nothing.”
Gumede’s ID was eventually unblocked in February 2022, with no explanation given for the initial reason or the lengthy process.
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She suspects her ID was blocked after she visited Zimbabwe several times in 2010 to see her in-laws, but no officials have confirmed or denied this.
“Everyone in my family is free in their country. It was only me [who had a blocked ID] and I was asking myself why I went to Zimbabwe. I was always emotional when I thought about this,” she said.
Thinking that her children would no longer have their own ID problems, she returned to the Home Affairs offices to apply for her son’s ID.
“When I went to Vereeniging Home Affairs, they told me my son’s ID was still blocked. I was hopeless. How can I give birth to my children who have no identity?”
Life in limbo
Lungani Gumede, now a 23-year-old student boilermaker, said his life was in limbo. He’s been unable to get a driver’s licence or open a bank account. Even writing exams at school is difficult.
“I look crazy sometimes when I tell people I don’t have an ID. It’s like I am not a citizen,” he said.
The Gumede family is one of more than 100 Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) clients whose ID documents have been blocked by Home Affairs.
The LHR has recently applied to join a court case on the issue as strategic litigants, asking the high court in Pretoria to find that the department should review its process of blocking IDs and provide a clear policy on how to resolve the issue.
800,000 blocked IDs
LHR says that up to 800,000 IDs have been blocked in South Africa. It argues that the process is unconstitutional because those whose IDs are blocked are not made aware of the move, and no clear process exists for them to challenge the decision. Cases are dealt with differently from office to office, and people often have to make a case for their citizenship at great expense.
Lamenting how costly the process has been, Gumede said: “I want to make people aware that our government does not care about us. We are being treated as nothing. What about people who are not working? This thing [unblocking an ID] involves a lot of money.”
DM168 sent questions about Gumede’s case and the general practice of ID blocking to Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman Siya Qoza on Monday 12 March. He had not responded by Thursday 16 March. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.