Frederick Ngubane
Frederick Ngubane

'Stateless' man struggles for citizenship

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Dec 13, 2017

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FREDERICK Ngubane claims to have been born in South Africa 27 years ago.

However, he has no birth certificate to prove it and thus cannot get a South African ID because it is said he is not a South African citizen. Ngubane is therefore stateless and belongs to no country.

Home Affairs refuses to issue him with a South African ID because he is unable to provide documented evidence that he was born here. The department also said it was not justified to grant him permanent residence in the country under the circumstances.

Ngubane said his only evidence that he was a South African, his birth certificate, went missing when the taxi he was travelling in was hijacked.

He eventually turned to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, with the help of Lawyers for Human Rights, to challenge the department’s refusal to assist him.

It was argued on his behalf that the department failed to properly conduct an investigation as to whether he was indeed stateless, and whether this constituted special circumstances to issue him with a permanent residence permit under the Immigration Act.

Ngubane claimed in court papers that he was born in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal in 1990. His late parents were South African citizens, he said.

His father died in 1993 when he was 3, he said, and he and his mother left to live in Nairobi, Kenya, where he went to school.

His mother was murdered in 2002 and he left Kenya with one of her friends to live in Uganda.

There, he said, he completed primary school, but the school had since closed down and his mother’s friend, with whom he lived, died in 2008.

Ngubane said he decided to return to South Africa in 2009 and went to the South African consulate in Nairobi to obtain a South African passport. This was refused and he was told to approach Home Affairs in South Africa.

He reached the Komatipoort border post where he was allowed to enter South Africa by merely producing his birth certificate.

On his way from the border post, the taxi in which he was travelling was hijacked and he and his fellow passengers were taken hostage.

They were robbed of their belongings, including the bag containing his birth certificate.

Ngubane said he managed to escape and went to the police, but they refused to investigate, as he did not have an ID document.

He then went to Home Affairs to try to obtain a copy of his birth certificate so that he could apply for an ID document. The department simply said they could not assist him.

Lawyers for Human Rights helped him to apply to Home Affairs for a permanent residence permit, which was rejected as he could not prove his South African nationality.

It was argued on behalf of Home Affairs that Ngubane was not stateless, as the Tanzanian government had linked his origin to “some or other East African country”.

This was due to smallpox vaccination marks on his body.

Adding to his problems was the denial by the Kenyan, Ugandan and Tanzanian consulates that he once resided in, and attended schools in, those countries.

Acting Judge MB Mokoena frowned on Ngubane’s account of where he actually came from, saying it did not seem as if he had been entirely frank with Home Affairs and the court.

The judge also questioned the fact that an immigration official at Komatipoort simply allowed him into the country by means of his birth certificate.

But the judge referred the matter back to Home Affairs for a proper investigation.

The judge ordered that he could in the meantime lawfully stay in South Africa, pending the outcome of the investigation.

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