MaDlamini (black head scarf) with one of her nine daughters (blue head scarf) and on her left some of her grandchildren. They use the hut as a kitchen. PHOTO: Thembelihle Qwabe/ANA

JOHANNESBURG - Deep in rural KwaZulu-Natal province lies a place called KwaMandonya, located within the uMkhanyakude Municipality. In this village, near Jozini, a family of 11 live in a ramshackle one-room dwelling with no electricity and no tap water.  

The desperate situation of the Siyaya family has not been helped by not having any identity documents (ID). Without IDs it is virtually impossible to get government assistance in the form of social grants or proper housing.  

This week, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba announced his department’s goals for the smart ID card to replace the present booklet ones by 2023. On Wednesday, the Department of Home Affairs said it had issued the 10 millionth smart ID card.

Although they still call themselves Siyayas, the siblings only remember that their father - a Siyaya - walked out on them when they were small children to become a chief in a village surrounded by mountains a long distance away. They longingly refer to the place where their father disappeared to as KwaShoba. When he left none of the children had birth certificates.

Abandoned all those years ago, MaDlamini was left alone to fend for herself and her small children. She survived by working as a farmhand whenever the opportunity arose. 

She can't really say what year her husband left, but her children are now all adults. Some of them have children of their own.

Opening up to the African News Agency (ANA) this week, a distraught MaDlamini said: “We had two shacks that we occupied but they all were destroyed in a storm last year." 

She said officials from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) assisted her family with food parcels. "They gave us a tent to sleep in and my son, Wonderboy, has been sleeping in it ever since," said MaDlamini. 

"The ANC people said they will come back and help us about the identity documents because we told them that we had tried everything, but nothing was working out. I don’t even remember my age anymore.” 

She is still waiting for them to come back.

MaDlamini has 10 children. Several of them use different surnames. Only one of MaDlamini's children has managed to obtain an ID.

MaDlamini could not say how old her only son Wonderboy is. She has nine grownup daughters and several grandchildren.

Her daughter Ncamisile Myeni is the lucky one. She has an ID. Myeni said someone in her community whom she did not really know assisted her to get an ID when she was a teenager. As a result, her surname on the ID is Nkosi and not Myeni, her mother's maiden name, or Siyaya her father's name.

"I am the only one who was lucky to get an ID document at home and that is only because I got a random person to do it for me when I was still young, but still the situation is bad at home so I also couldn’t go to school. I had to work on a farm in order to bring food home,” laments Myeni.

“I took my eight-year-old to the home affairs to apply for a birth certificate for her because I need to register her for school. When I got there they refused to do it for me. I was told that they don’t do birth certificates for grown kids." 

Four of MaDlamini's grandchildren have been taken in by sympathetic neighbours. The good Samaritans have since obtained birth certificates for the children. However, the children now bear the surname of their good neighbours.

The Siyayas complain about being limited to menial low-paying jobs on farms. “We couldn’t go to school and plus my mother did not have money to even feed us so we had to help her as well," said Myeni, a mother of two. 

"And now that we also have kids, this is it for us. We have to work on farms to feed our kids and even if they do not pay us, sometimes at least we bring cultivated food to the table. Our biggest problem is not being able to register for social grants.”  

Another daughter of MaDlamini's had an equally painful story. Identifying herself as Mee Myeni, she said: “The only way I was able to get birth certificates for my two kids was through their father. 

"They took his surname, which is against my culture because we are not married. Even though he is abusive towards me, I cannot leave him because I depend on him financially. I don’t have an ID so I can never find a job.”   

The Siyaya family are a true depiction of what inequality and poverty is in South Africa. They are uneducated, poor, undocumented and live forgotten, far away in rural hillsides. 

African News Agency/ANA