Homeless consigned to fringes of society without an ID

Siwaphiwe Myataza-Mzantsi .Image: Supplied

Siwaphiwe Myataza-Mzantsi .Image: Supplied

Published May 17, 2023


Siwaphiwe Myataza-Mzantsi

Considering the direction of this splintering country, now is a more crucial time than ever to get everyone voting. In fact, where I come from in Tsolo, in the Eastern Cape, we have started with our village programme where we educate our peers about the significance of intentionally voting.

Load shedding, corruption, high statistics of gender-based violence, the high murder and crime rate, unemployment, lack of service delivery, water shedding and absurd VAT ...

Change is a necessity.

Very often, almost daily, those frequenting U-Turn offices would have had someone pleading to be assisted with obtaining identity documents. The sweat, desperation and hunger is something common that you always easily notice. Without the primary documentation needed for legal identification, basic rights and services like social grants, health care, the right to vote, and bank accounts are often out of their reach.

Most of the homeless people that visit our offices always claim to have walked long distances to seek help. The last visit by a 51-year-old man who said he hails from Welkom in the Free State left me broken. He said, “I can die any day in the unsafe streets as not everyone survives. When that happens I need to be identified and have my bones sent to my forefather’s land for burial.”

Getting an ID through Home Affairs is a struggle, according to him, as he gets chased away because of his distinctive smell.

And I wonder when is ever the right time to help people experiencing homelessness to get identity documents in South Africa? Where should homeless people go to for help?

Our differences span across gender, race, ability, age, sexual orientation, income, faith, socio-economic background and living situation – but none of them should cheat us of our right to personal identity. As a country we recently commemorated Freedom Day and this got me thinking about how many homeless people out there have given up the hope of securing the identity document which would enable them to exercise their right to vote.

Also, is it then not that the government is violating the citizens’ rights, in particular those of homeless people, in failing to make it easy for them to obtain Identity documents. Many people without legal identity become a marginalised group much more vulnerable to crimes like human trafficking, which is now the third-most profitable criminal enterprise throughout the world.

With 2024’s general elections fast approaching, officials have a golden opportunity to rectify this shortcoming and increase the participation of people experiencing homelessness. Voting is an important form of expression, social inclusion and I believe that we need to represent the richness of all people, all backgrounds, and all perspectives, and recognise the overlapping nature of these communities but more than anything, we need to prioritise homeless people.

Collaborations between Home Affairs, the Electoral Commission of South Africa and civil organisations that create permanent, sustainable pathways out of homelessness in South Africa should be strengthened to reach more undocumented homeless people.

Solutions around voting for homeless people shouldn’t only be relevant when it’s election season, officials should set monthly targets to issue identity documents and make sure their work is relevant and responsive to the needs of people experiencing homelessness.

Siwaphiwe Myataza-Mzantsi is a political science graduate from UWC and works as media liaison officer at U-Turn Homeless Ministries