George Maskini, a Grade 6 pupil from Sunnyside Primary in Athlone. File picture: David Ritchie/ANA

Cape Town - Aspiring young soccer player George Maskini was supposed to leave for Thailand but his dream was drowned in a sea of confusion at Cape Town airport’s boarding gates.

The Cape Argus first reported on the struggle of George and his mother to get his travel documents sorted out.

Mrs Maskini initially applied for a new passport in July and got an SMS informing her that her application had been received.

Four weeks later, she was told the passport was still in the printing phase. Then, weeks later, she received shattering news.

She was told her son could not apply for travel documents but had to apply for a passport. This despite being told by Home Affairs officials that she could not apply for a passport but instead had to apply for travel documents.

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Young soccer star gets passport just in time

George’s parents are from the Democratic Republic of Congo and have permanent residency in the country. He was born in South Africa. George previously had a passport, but it expired in May. After reading about his plight, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Fatima Chohan intervened and personally handed him a “passport”.

The Grade 6 pupil from Sunnyside Primary School in Athlone was supposed to leave for Phuket on Monday to take part in the under-13 to 15 Phuket Cup, an international youth tournament in Thailand.

There was a buzz of excitement at the airport. George was accompanied by his whole family and the entire team that was set to leave for the tournament.

However, as he was about to check in at the boarding gates there was a hiccup.

His mother said: “Each one had their passport and when it was George’s turn we gave his passport and the airline ticket. When they checked his passport it showed nationality South African, but when they scanned it, it said Congolese.” They then told her she had to apply for a visa.

Maskini said when she had queried it before with the Thailand embassy they said if his nationality was South African he did not require a visa.

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Heartbroken, George watched his teammates leave for Phuket without him and his mother said it reduced him to tears.

Mansoor Jaffer, spokesperson for the deputy minister, explained that she didn’t hand him a passport, but travel documents.

“The Department of Home Affairs issued a travel document to the child in time for his planned trip, admittedly after an unnecessary delay.

“The South African immigration authorities accepted his travel document, but airline authorities stopped him as he is a Congolese citizen and required a visa. Internationally, the acquisition of visas is the responsibility of the traveller or his/her representative(s).

“The Department of Home Affairs has no jurisdiction over visa arrangements between a traveller and the country visited. The parents of the boy came to South Africa as refugees and now have permanent resident status but do not have South African citizenship. They and their son are Congolese citizens and this fact would have been common cause,” he said.

Maskini then decided to phone Visa Express, but the fastest George could get a visa would have taken over four days.

“He wanted so badly to play overseas. I have never been in so much pain before. I couldn’t sleep,” Maskini said. 

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Cape Argus