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HELL AFFAIRS

Endless nightmare for ‘stateless’ mother after Home Affairs ID crackdown puts her life in limbo

Endless nightmare for ‘stateless’ mother after Home Affairs ID crackdown puts her life in limbo
Khanyi Mhkwanazi and her daughter, Mai Bvutula, have been thrust into statelessness, unable to access social grants, hold onto jobs and even open bank accounts since the Department of Home Affairs blocked Mhkwanazi's South African ID. (Photo: Supplied)

Thousands of people cannot access healthcare or education after Home Affairs decided in 2012 to block their ‘suspicious’ identity documents.

In 2012, the Department of Home Affairs embarked on a mass drive to block South African identity documents in a bid to address fraud and misrepresentation, which had resulted in duplicate IDs on the National Population Register.

What initially started as 29,000 IDs having markers placed against them quickly escalated to more than one million by 2020.

It resulted in people like Khanyi Mkhwanazi having their dignity and citizenship stripped from them, propelling them into statelessness.

“What is happening is so unfair. My father was a South African and I am married to a South African, but now Home Affairs is telling me that I am an illegal immigrant,” Mkhwanazi said in an emotional interview.

Mkhwanazi is a 50-year-old mother and grandmother whose troubles with Home Affairs started in 1990.

Although she was born and raised in Eswatini, her father was a South African who hailed from Mbuzini, a small village bordering Eswatini and Mozambique.

When apartheid was coming to an end, Mkhwanazi’s father took her to a makeshift Home Affairs office in Mpumalanga to apply for her ID, which was never issued.

Mkhwanazi spent time going back and forth between Swaziland and Mbuzini, but she permanently relocated to South Africa in 2002 when she got married.

She applied for permanent residence and citizenship, both of which were granted.

But later, when she went to register her business, she discovered that she could not because Home Affairs had blocked her ID, claiming she was an illegal immigrant.

“I can’t do anything. I literally can’t do anything. I’m stateless because I can’t open a bank account. I can’t start a business,” Mkhwanazi said.

“I’m working as a chef now, but if the Department of Labour comes to my [place of work], I fear I will be fired and arrested.”

Mkhwanazi said she dreamt of starting several businesses, from an early childhood development centre to a small takeaway shop, but these dreams had been dashed because Home Affairs had rendered her stateless.

As we speak now, my daughter is suicidal. She cannot get a job because of this ID mess.

“All that has been shattered because of one thing. I do not want to work for someone else for the rest of my life, but my life is stagnant. How would I move forward? Because to do anything in South Africa, you need an ID,” she said.

Desperate to have her South African ID unblocked and having exhausted every other avenue, Mkhwanazi said she was willing to take a DNA test to prove that she is indeed South African.

“My father passed away, rest his soul, and my aunt is gone too. I have no one I can turn to but my [half-]brother, so if they want DNA, they can match my brother’s DNA with mine.

“But besides that, I’ve been married to a South African for more than 20 years. Does that not count for something?” the mother of two asked.

Generational curses

The consequences of Mkhwanazi having her ID blocked are not felt by her alone, but extend across three generations.

She brought her daughter, Mai Bvutula, to South Africa when she got married in 2002. However, because Mkhwanazi’s ID was blocked, Bvutula has not been able to obtain an ID herself.

“As we speak now, my daughter is suicidal. She cannot get a job because of this ID mess. She can’t even get Sassa [grants] to support herself and her children,” Mkhwanazi said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Hell Affairs

“So now I am stateless and my daughter and grandchildren are too, and it’s all because Home Affairs cannot be straight with us.”

Bvutula’s state of despair has driven her to consider the unthinkable.

“She once said to me: ‘You know what, Mama, when I’m with my kids, I feel so overwhelmed because I’m alone and I’m not working. I can’t get any social help. I feel like I can kill my kids.’

“That’s the damage this whole situation has done to my kids,” Mkhwanazi said.

Actually, I’m just useless because there’s just nothing that I can do to progress or to make my kid’s life better.

“This has affected my four grandchildren so badly. Because my daughter doesn’t have an ID, their births have never been registered. They cannot be accepted into school because they don’t have birth certificates.”

Mkhwanazi explained that all but the oldest grandchild had been excluded from obtaining an education.

Thanks to the intervention of a social worker, Sinethemba Skylar Bvutula started attending school for the first time in 2023 at the age of eight. Missing the foundation phases of early childhood development, Sinethemba went straight to Grade 2, which Mkhwanazi said could not be good for a child’s development.

Hope for the future

Though Home Affairs had unblocked more than one million IDs by 2023, hundreds of thousands of people are still affected by the practice and cut off from the system, rendering them un­­able to access healthcare services and education, to get a job or even open a bank account.

The High Court in Pretoria brought relief to thousands of affected people when it handed down a landmark judgment on 16 January declaring the practice unconstitutional.

Although the court ordered the department to unblock IDs that have been unfairly blocked, many people are still waiting, living in limbo but eager to get on with their lives.

Mkhwanazi said she had hopes that Home Affairs will unblock her ID soon so that she, her daughter and her grandchildren could go on with their lives.

She said she fears the department will not fix the mess it created when it started to block IDs indiscriminately, but she will never give up hope.

“Some time back, I used to feel like I [was] stateless. Actually, I’m just useless because there’s just nothing that I can do to progress or to make my kid’s life better. There’s just nothing I can do.

“But as an adult, you come to a point like, no man, this is not the end of the road,” Mkhwanazi said. DM

Daily Maverick approached the Department of Home Affairs which said it needed more time to investigate the claims. A response was not ready by the time of publication. This article will be updated when it is received.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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