Phumzile Van Damme. Picture: David Ritchie.

Johannesburg - Democratic Alliance MP Phumzile van Damme was oblivious of questions around her citizenship until the Sunday Times made an inquiry to her, her party said on Sunday.

The newspaper reported on Sunday that Van Damme was born in Manzini, Swaziland, in 1983, that her mother, Lynette van Damme, was born in Hlathikhulu village, also in Swaziland, and that Van Damme's biological father, Elroy Mayisela, was a Swazi national.

If Van Damme was found to have misrepresented her citizenship, it would disqualify her from being a South African MP, the paper said in an article branding Van Damme as a “liar and a fraud”.

However, DA spokesman Marius Redelinghuys said in a statement on Sunday that the MP was a South African.

“Van Damme is a South African citizen and possesses the necessary documentation to support this, including a birth certificate and a valid identity document.”

“She was also under the impression that she was born outside Nelspruit, as reflected in her birth certificate. After being presented with the allegations by the Sunday Times, Van Damme categorically stated that she has not had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances of her birth and registration, having accepted the account of her mother,” said Redelinghuys.

Redelinghuys said the Sunday Times report was libellous and the party would lay a complaint with the Press Ombudsman.

He said Van Damme’s recent personal investigations revealed that her birth was registered at Home Affairs in Pietermaritzburg in the mid-1990s.

“A Home Affairs official told Van Damme’s mother that she should register Van Damme based on the understanding that she was born in South Africa and was entitled to South African citizenship,” he said.

The official allegedly informed Van Damme’s mother that the department was dealing with a huge case load of people exiled by apartheid who were returning to claim their South African citizenship.

It was easier to register Van Damme as born in South Africa, since her family was in the group of returning citizens.

“Van Damme’s mother took the advice from the home affairs official in good faith, given the confusion that characterised home affairs during the transition.

“It is regrettable that Van Damme’s mother did not inform herself of the relevant rules for registering citizenship, and that Van Damme was registered based on birth and not because she was entitled to citizenship through her biological father and grandparents,” said Redelinghuys.

He said Van Damme’s mother was too scared to return to Home Affairs to correct this detail.

“Van Damme’s grandmother left South Africa in the 1950s to escape apartheid and settled in Swaziland. It is apparent that Van Damme was a victim of circumstances beyond her control, an untenable situation of which she only became aware following the Sunday Times query.

“Van Damme is a South African citizen. Her status is protected by Section 20 of the Constitution. She is entitled to South African citizenship regardless, through her biological father and grandparents.

“Van Damme and the DA will protect this status vigorously,” said Redelinghuys. - Sapa