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Cape Town - South African-born Kim Simpson decided, after a long stay in the UK, to return to South Africa for good.
But when she visited the consulate to arrange the move, her South African passport and identity document were cut to pieces in front of her.
“I was blown away,” she said. “I just sat there thinking, what the hell just happened?”
In fact, she had lost her South African citizenship because she failed to complete a little-known administrative step before earlier applying for British citizenship.
And it turns out thousands of other South Africans with dual citizenship are in the same boat.
A Facebook page called Dual SA Citizenship has garnered thousands of followers desperate for information about their predicament.
According to the Home Affairs website, before applying for citizenship of another country a South African must apply to Home Affairs to retain his or her South African citizenship.
“The application must be made and approved before acquisition of the other citizenship, or you will lose your SA citizenship automatically on the date that you have acquired the foreign citizenship.”
But many do not see this warning before innocently applying for the citizenship of another country.
Founder of the online Facebook campaign, David – who refused to give his surname until he has secured legal representation – is one of the thousands stripped of citizenship because he was unaware of the letter he had to send in order to retain it.
“The loss of citizenship ranks right up there with treason at the very worst and here we have a situation where South Africans are being stripped of their citizenship simply because they did not know about an application.”
David took to social media to rally support. “My aim was to see if we could raise enough support that Home Affairs would either change the conditions of the letter or at least offer an amnesty period. The unfortunate thing is that you do not know until you apply to have your South African passport renewed. It is here that the official asks for the (dual citizenship) permission letter. If you cannot produce it, your citizenship is renounced on the spot.”
David said there used to be a notice about the permission letter on the front page of South African passports, but from about 2000 it disappeared.
Simpson was born and grew up in South Africa. After her company transferred her to their UK offices, she lived there and met her Zimbabwean-born husband there. He had lived in South Africa and had citizenship.
Two years ago, they had a daughter, and they have now decided to come home.
Because Kim was born in South Africa, she will be able to reapply for citizenship after living here for a year.
“I find it a very bitter pill to swallow...
this is not a library card or even driver’s licence, it’s our citizenship.”
Home Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.