Johannesburg - At 17, Pule Mahluza knows all too well he is facing a doomed future and a life in perpetual limbo without an ID.
The teenager from Soshanguve, north of Pretoria, has never had a birth certificate, a situation that makes it difficult for him to get an ID from Home Affairs.
Pule echoes the story told by his father, Martin Mawela, about why he doesn’t have a birth certificate.
His mother, who died three years ago, never went to Home Affairs to register him after giving birth at Ga-Rankuwa Hospital, Pule said.
The institute was renamed George Mukhari Hospital in 2003.
“My mother should have done the right thing from the start,” he said. “Now she’s no longer around to help me sort this out.”
Born out of wedlock and to parents who are both South Africans, Pule uses his mother’s surname.
Mawela, the father, told The Star that he noticed when his son was about six months old that something had not gone right about his birth registration.
“She wasn’t taking him to the clinic. We used to fight about this. I then found out that the reason for not taking him was that there wasn’t a birth certificate,” Mawela recalled.
“We fought a lot about how we could sort this out, until she died. She never went to Home Affairs, that’s where the problem is.”
He admits that, in hindsight, he should have taken up the matter and approached Home Affairs.
“I believed they would need her more than me for birth registration,” said Mawela.
According to legislation, a child should be registered within 30 days of birth. Nowadays Home Affairs officials visit hospitals to help parents with registration.
Mawela is certain this is a new system. “Back in the 2000s things were not like this. Mothers had to go to Home Affairs (for birth registration and collection),” he said.
He said he had not found joy at the local Home Affairs branch. Mawela said officials at the branch directed him to go get birth records at George Mukhari.
“We’ve found nothing at the hospital. They can’t find the birth record,” said Mawela, who insists he is certain his son was born there.
“Home Affairs can’t help us because of this.”
The mother got the son into primary school although he had no birth certificate.
But he dropped out of school two years ago, when he had to start Grade 8. This was after his mother died.
Unlike in many cases where children in his predicament are barred from enrolling in school, Pule was not. Not having a birth certificate, however, contributed to his refusal to enrol at high school, Mawela said.
Without documentation, he found school a humiliating environment. “I used to play sports. They often had to leave me out because I could not produce a birth certificate.
“When I was very young I did not mind not having a birth certificate. I started stressing about it when I had to go to high school,” he said.
He realises he needs an ID to improve his prospects of participating in the economy.
“I’d like to be able to help my father. He’s getting old and stressing too about this thing.
“It’s a serious challenge not being able to get an ID. I can’t do anything without it. I’m stuck,” Pule said.
South Africans in Pule’s predicament have become stateless, meaning they do not belong to any country.
Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), an NGO, has been campaigning for rights of stateless people in South Africa. It runs a drive called Promoting Citizenship and Preventing Statelessness in South Africa.
Liesl Muller, an LHR attorney, told The Star a number of South Africans had ended up stateless after being in Pule’s position.
South Africans make up half the stateless people in the country, with the other half being foreign nationals.
“It’s a big problem because most of my clients, almost 50%, are people who are children born to South Africans,” said Muller.
“They struggle to get birth certificates like your example (Pule). A lot of these people are people who should be South Africans but can’t prove their nationality.”
Pule could become stateless too if his problem was not resolved, Muller said.
“The point is, if he can’t prove his nationality, then he can become stateless. If Home Affairs is willing to register him eventually, then he’ll have citizenship. But if it continues, and for a long time he doesn’t get his documents, he could become stateless.”
Stateless people face insurmountable problems, Muller said. “If you’re stateless you’re a foreigner everywhere.
“If you’re stateless normally you don’t have a document, which means you can’t go to school, you can’t get a legal job, you won’t be able to get medical aid, you won’t be able to register your own children, and you can’t get a driving licence.”
David Hlabane, Home Affairs spokesperson, urged Mawela to return to a branch, where officials should explore late registration of birth.
“The father would need to go back to one of our offices and apply for registration of birth. It’s quite a process because then they’ll need to investigate.
“He’d have to demonstrate, one way or the other, that the child is indeed a South African citizen. It’s a pity it’s a process, but there are no short cuts to it,” Hlabane told The Star.
Muller said the department also had an option of allowing Mawela to prove his son’s nationality by DNA.
“It sounds to me like this case can be easily resolved. The father could get a DNA test done. Home Affairs can give him a referral form to a lab, and he can go do a DNA test and then they could be able to get him registered.”