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On Thursday 11 April 2019 Meqheleng residents in Ficksburg filled the Itekeng Community Hall in a cry for help from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) on issues of stateless children and undocumented citizens from the community.

After numerous calls and queries were submitted to their advice office and weekly show with Setsoto FM, Nomaswazi Tshabalala our paralegal at the Ficksburg advice office saw that there is a crisis in the Meqheleng community and invited the Department of Home Affairs, the Human Rights Commission, Department of Social Development (DSD), the Gender Commission and Citizen Justice Network to come together to talk about solutions that can assist the frustrated citizens.  The workshop was held to discuss how ongoing issues related to undocumented community members and stateless children could be resolved. A number of people were people who were born and bred in different farms around the Free State but were never documented because of inaccessibility to services and instances where parents had died before registering or documenting them at the Department of Home Affairs. There were  also many Lesotho nationals who had come to South Africa through  legal marriage to South Africans and now have children who cannot be documented because mothers don’t have their residence registered or have not yet been naturalized among other reasons – some of these women have been married for over twenty years and have not been registered. Unfortunately their citizenship in Lesotho has also been revoked which means they are stateless and cannot access basic services such as health and social grant in any country.

People had with them legal documents including marriage certificates, permanent residence application documents, proof of schooling and affidavits from various farms in the Free State as well as Identity Documents that have been cancelled at DHA because of dual citizenship. The saddest part is that the Department of Education has now instructed schools and Principals to remove children who do not have legal documents from schools – “We do not know when the instruction was passed and therefore are trying to work with principals in different schools to understand what this will mean for children who are in fact South Africans” said Nomaswazi Tshabalala.

The Department of Home Affairs which was expected to have all the answers and guidance on where people can go for help or what they can do regarding their respective cases did not pitch and did not even send an apology. This is reflective of the bad service people at this workshop spoke about, mentioning that officials at DHA are extremely rude and not helpful. People are sent from pillar to post between Ficksburg and Bethlehem offices with no help.

{“I do not know my late Mother since birth, who passed away before registering my birth, my uncle has all the supporting documents and has been trying to assist me to get an ID to no avail and I now have a child who also cannot be documented because I do not have an ID,  but instead I was told by the DHA official to find my late mother or else I’ll remain stateless, my children will be stateless and so will my great-grandchildren” said a young and frustrated woman in the audience.}

Reflecting on the workshop Nomaswazi said she’s sad and disappointed that DHA did not pitch, leaving people discouraged with unanswered questions and lack of information, she further stated that the Ficksburg Advice Office will however arrange another workshop with DHA district offices in an effort to serve the community and give them access to justice. Citizen Justice Network strives to report and flag issues of this nature from underreported communities to ensure that they get the attention and coverage they deserve and also to highlight them to relevant stakeholders. We will therefore continue working hard with the Ficksburg advice office and other offices to ensure that we give people in disadvantaged communities access to justice.

By: Gladys Matasane – Editorial Assistant