Stateless Shakgane from Soweto wants to be someone
Share this article:
Johannesburg - At 23, Dineo Shakgane, a Soweto resident, is unable to open a bank account or apply to study further. She can’t buy a SIM card or even enter a reality show competition.
She does not have an identity document. She has no citizenship, she is a citizen of nowhere.
Shakgane was born in Klerksdorp, west of Joburg, in 1993 to a mother who was from Lesotho and a father who she was told was South African.
“I don’t know my father. I just know that he was from Matatiele, Eastern Cape. I lost contact with him after my mother passed away in 2000,” Shakgane said, speaking after knocking off at the Rockville, Soweto NGO where she works as a cleaner and cook. It’s a piece job - she doesn’t have the papers to apply for a proper job.
She was recently told her father died in 2009, a rumour she has been unable to confirm. She never knew him, but wishes he was still alive, as a last hope to prove her identity.
Shakgane is one of the estimated 10 million people worldwide believed to be stateless by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
Statelessness, according to the UN, refers to “a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law. Some people are born stateless, but others become stateless”.
“My family, particularly my brother (who has a different father), have been trying to help me get South African citizenship. We were told I have to prove I was born here. I should get proof from the hospital, the schools I went to and find a family member who can vouch for me. I gave Home Affairs the documentation I had, but that failed because they say there’s a discrepancy - so my application was rejected,” Shakgane said.
The Home Affairs letter questions why she doesn’t have the same family name as the relatives who vouched for her.
It recommends an appeal process to prove the relationship between her mother and grandmother - although both are dead.
“It’s a hopeless situation,” she said, but she will appeal. She said she “wants to be someone”.
Shakgane’s aunt, Mpho Mokoena, who has been her guardian since her mother’s death, said raising an undocumented child has been a struggle. “It has been difficult. We even had statements from priests supporting her application, but it was tough,” Mokoena said.
Liesl Muller from Lawyers for Human Rights said the law is flawed. “The Births and Deaths Registration Act and its regulations desperately need to be changed. They are causing children in South Africa to become stateless by denying them birth certificates. Then we need a dedicated legal measure to provide a remedy for stateless people,” Muller said.
Speaking on Shakgane’s case, Muller said she would be technically eligible for SA citizenship, but the challenge would be to prove her identity.
“South African law allows her to get SA citizenship through her father. And she can get Lesotho citizenship through descent through her mother. The problem seems to be proof. If neither country acknowledges her citizenship, she will be stateless. Because she’s a resident in South Africa she can approach a South African court to declare her citizenship if she can prove on a balance of probabilities that she is South African,” Muller said.
For now, the future for Shakgane is unknown. “I can’t even compare myself to a foreigner, because a foreigner has an identity. The only place I have ever called home is South Africa. I don’t know anyone in Lesotho,” she said.
“My peers are at school, they are succeeding in life. I am just a human being, merely living, but I can’t get started. Sometimes I ask myself what’s the point of living,” she said.