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Foreigner everywhere, citizen nowhere: The prohibitive and hostile barriers of being stateless in SA

Since arriving in South Africa two decades ago, Primrose Modisane has never been outside of Gauteng. She says once she gets her ID she would like to go back to school to finish matric, open a bank account and get her driver’s licence.
People who find themselves stateless in South Africa struggle to rectify their situation and often find themselves defeated by bureaucracy at Home Affairs.
Zimbabwean-born Primrose Modisane has been living in South Africa for 20 years without an ID or birth certificate.
“It’s difficult because I can’t open a bank account. I can’t apply for any social grants. I can’t walk around freely without the fear of being arrested by police. If you’re sick you cannot go to the hospital because they will ask for an ID,” she says (by law, hospitals have to treat undocumented people. – Editor).
“Statelessness is essentially an acute violation of the right to citizenship. A stateless person is a foreigner everywhere and a citizen nowhere. You are not recognised as a citizen in any country,” said Thandeka Chauke of Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR).
The organisation, together with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHRA) briefed the Department of Home Affairs parliamentary portfolio committee about statelessness in South Africa on Tuesday.
LHR says people of mixed parentage, orphaned and abandoned infants, adults whose births have never been registered, and undocumented long-term migrants are most at risk of being stateless – someone who is not considered a national of any state.
“You cannot access basic things like a bank account, enrol for an educational course, sign a lease agreement or get married — things that we take for granted,” said Chauke.
In Modisane’s case, she and her mother left Zimbabwe and moved to South Africa in 2001, when she was in Grade 5. They lived with her grandmother (83), a South African citizen, in Vosloorus, Gauteng, where she attended primary and high school.
Since her mother was undocumented, Modisane was unable to register for a birth certificate.
She said she only realised the extent of the problem of being undocumented when she was unable to write her final matric exams in 2010.
“I realised in matric that I needed an ID book to write my final exams. So my granny and I approached Home Affairs to get one for me. “
“We went to the offices in Germiston, Vosloorus, Boksburg and Harrison. But we stopped visiting the different branches to get help because we ran out of transport money because my granny is a pensioner.”
“I gave up when they told me that I wouldn’t be able to write matric without an ID book. We tried everything. We tried to get an affidavit where my granny could explain to them why I don’t have an ID book. But it didn’t work, so I gave up,” she said.
Unable to finish matric, Modisane decided to enter the job market and started working as a domestic worker in 2011.
Getting citizenship for her daughters
Another challenge Modisane faced was getting citizenship for her two daughters, aged five and 12.
She was unable to register their births and get birth certificates because she is undocumented. She approached LHR for assistance in 2017. She was advised to get DNA tests done with her daughter’s father (a South African citizen) to prove that they are related, and apply for birth certificates.
Both of her daughters now have birth certificates.
Modisane, her mother and her grandmother also got DNA tests done in March 2019. After a mistake was made on the samples, they only received the correct results on 17 February 2021. They visited the Germiston Home Affairs branch the following Wednesday to apply for birth certificates for Modisane and her mother, but were told to come back the next Tuesday. When they arrived that Tuesday they were told that the person they were supposed to see was on leave and were told to return the following Monday (8 March).
They revisited the Germiston offices on Wednesday. After completing registration forms, the officials told Modisane that she can only apply for her own birth certificate once her mom, who is currently still undocumented, receives both a birth certificate and an ID card of her own.
“I’m happy for my mom, but I’m sad that I didn’t get any useful information. When my mother’s ID arrives I don’t know what stories [Home Affairs] tell me. I don’t know if [Home Affairs] will even be able to help me.”
Modisane’s current employer, Sophia Welz, said the process of getting her registered has been “intimidating and unhelpful”. Modisane has been in her employment since 2014.
“When you tell your story and the person behind the counter says, ‘Ag, man you’re lying’, it’s very displacing and difficult.”
“Her grandmother is South African, so she and her mother should be entitled to citizenship. But [the officials] make you feel as though you’re a criminal because of the late birth registration. And because you’re applying for late birth registration you must be lying.”
Welz adds that she is concerned about what will happen to Modisane if she ever needs to urgently go to the hospital with no form of identification.
“I’m not sure what the government is so scared of. They could be taxpayers while working and contributing to our society. They’re already here and deserve to get the necessary papers and have access to basic services.”
“If more people knew about statelessness they’d be more sympathetic,” she said.

No end in sight to DHA’s biometrics tender furore

There is no end in sight as yet for the controversial Department of Home Affairs (DHA) biometrics tender, as the parliamentary committee on home affairs on Friday deferred the matter to a later date after power cuts disrupted a crucial meeting.
The committee was due to receive an update on the execution of the project, which has stalled for over three years, but some members could not join the virtual meeting, including key staff from the department.
The planned session with the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs was to hear from the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, which had been invited to attend the session where the DHA was to brief the committee on the way forward.
SITA handled the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) on behalf of the DHA in 2017, but the 2018/19 financial audit found the tender was awarded irregularly to EOH Mthombo.
During the annual audit of SITA, the auditor-general flagged the contract as potentially irregular because of suspected collusion in the bidding process, and the fact that the tender master file could not be found.
Implementation of ABIS was delayed as a result of the missing master files in the ABIS contract and a forensic audit has since been concluded.
On Friday, committee chairman Bongani Bongo said some committee members failed to participate in the meeting due to load-shedding and the matter was deferred to a later date.
French connection
The DHA has been battling to rescue the long-awaited ABIS project, and last week, reportedly received confirmation from National Treasury to cede the contract to French multinational technology company IDEMIA.
According to the department, EOH recommended the work be ceded to IDEMIA, a decision that has seemingly received Treasury’s backing.
The recommendation has not been well received in some quarters, with questions being asked why a subcontractor that was part of a consortium that failed to deliver the ABIS on time should be the one to take over.
The system was supposed to be up and running after 12 months but is now late. IDEMIA was a subcontractor working with EOH in the period when project timelines were missed.
The bid was awarded in November 2017, therefore should have been completed in November 2018. However, three years and three months later, the project is still incomplete.
IDEMIA’s empowerment credentials as per the tender requirements have also been flagged as a concern because it’s a French-headquartered business.
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi previously denied the company was favoured ahead of other local firms.
Organisations that missed out on the original bid are alleging “apparent bias” in the decision.
Three companies − NEC Africa, Accenture SA and Ernst & Young Advisory Services − missed out on the bid to EOH.
Legislation appreciated
Responding to ITWeb on Friday, Tlali Tlali, head of corporate services at SITA, could not be drawn to comment directly as to when exactly the agency received instructions to cede the contract.
“It would be inappropriate, unprofessional and discourteous to discuss in the media at this stage, the details around this project. We know and understand our obligations towards Parliament and continue to accord Parliament the respect it deserves,” said Tlali.
“Should the need arise to do so once the committee has been briefed, SITA will consider commenting on matters that relate to this project, provided they fall within our purview and based on the role we played in the project.
“We run an accountable agency of the State that is committed to serving our customers and the people of South Africa the best way possible to extract value for money in accordance with policy and the law.”
In his presentation to the portfolio committee last November, Motsoaledi revealed that out of the R400 million contract, R224 million had already been spent on services, infrastructure and software.
The budget still available for the project is R129 million.
The minister added that legal opinion obtained by the DHA suggested that ceding is permissible subject to certain requirements being met.
Siya Qoza, the minister’s spokesperson, would also not be drawn to answer direct questions regarding the forensic investigation on the tender as well the subsequent cessation of the project.
“The department intends to finalise the implementation of the ABIS project once all processes and negotiations have been concluded.” he said.
IDEMIA previously declined to be drawn to comment on other matters pertaining to the contract, referring ITWeb back to the department.

Angolan Parents – Born in South Africa there is hope Brothers born of Angolan parents have right to South African citizenship: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal by the minister of home affairs, who was ordered by the high court in Pretoria last year to grant citizenship to two brothers born in SA of foreign parents in the 1990s.
Brothers Joseph Emmanuel Jose and Jonathan Diabaka are entitled to South African citizenship even though their parents are Angolan.
This follows a ruling of the Supreme Court of Appeal on Tuesday, when it dismissed, with a punitive cost order, an application by the home affairs minister for leave to appeal against a court order that he grant citizenship to the two men, who were born in SA of foreign parents.
Joseph and Jonathan, born in SA in February 1996 and August 1997 respectively, have lived in the country their entire lives. Their parents are Angolan citizens who fled that country in 1995 and sought asylum in SA. The parents and children were granted refugee status in 1997.
This endured until January 2014 when the department informed the family that their refugee status had been withdrawn. When the status was withdrawn, Jose was 17 and Jonathan 16.
The department referred them to the Angolan embassy, where they were advised that to remain lawfully in SA, they had to apply for Angolan passports and failure to do that would result in “repatriation”.
The brothers have never been to Angola, they have no family there, know little about Angola, and neither speak any Portuguese.
When they experienced difficulties in applying for South African IDs, they approached Lawyers for Human Rights who advised them that they were eligible to apply for citizenship.
However, their efforts were not successful and they then applied to the high court in Pretoria to direct the department to grant them South African citizenship.
The court ordered the department to grant them citizenship in March last year.
Dissatisfied with this order, the minister applied for leave to appeal to the SCA.
The high court granted leave only on the question of whether it was competent for the court to order the minister to grant, as opposed to consider, the brothers’ applications for citizenship.
In the judgment passed on Wednesday, the SCA held that the brothers met the requirements for South African citizenship in terms of the Citizenship Act.
This is because they were born in SA of parents who are not South African and who have not been admitted into SA for permanent residence and that they have lived in SA from the date of birth until they became adult.
On the question of whether a court can direct the department to grant the men’s application for citizenship, the SCA said while the doctrine of the separation of powers must be considered, this did not mean that there might not be cases in which a court may need to give directions to the executive.
The SCA said given that it was clear that the men met all requirements for citizenship, it would serve no purpose to send the matter to the minister to make a fresh decision.
The SCA said a recent Constitutional Court judgment passed in July, which sets a precedent, affirmed that a court may direct the department to grant citizenship to an applicant.
The appellate court said though the precedent was set after the heads of argument -setting out the basis for the minister’s appeal – were filed, the department’s position ought to have changed.
The court said the department was obliged to reconsider its position.
For that reason, the SCA dismissed the minister’s appeal with costs on a punitive scale.
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Government’s plan to save South Africa – including changes for visas, businesses, and reducing load shedding

National Treasury has published its updated ‘Operation Vulindlela’ plan, detailing the government’s strategy to boost the economy after the Covid-19 pandemic.
First announced by president Cyril Ramaphosa in parliament in October 2020, Operation Vulindlela is a joint initiative of the Presidency and National Treasury.
It is a government-wide approach through which ministers, departments and entities implement structural reforms – and a Vulindlela unit in the Presidency and National Treasury monitors progress and actively supports implementation.
Its aim is to fast-track the implementation of high-impact reforms, addressing obstacles or delays to ensure execution on policy commitments.
“The implementation of structural reforms is crucial to sustain our economic recovery and to address the underlying causes of low economic growth and high unemployment,” the document states.
“Many of these reforms have been delayed for a number of reasons, but their urgency is increased by the need to support a swift economic recovery.”
Dedicated capacity for Operation Vulindlela has been created in the Project Management Office (PMO) in The Presidency as well as in National Treasury.
The Vulindlela unit reports directly to the president as well as to the Department of Finance, and provides updates to Cabinet and the National Economic Recovery Council on a regular basis.
The plan indicates that Operation Vulindlela supports the implementation of reforms in three ways:
• Monitoring and reporting on progress to identify challenges, sustain momentum and ensure accountability;
• Facilitating technical support to enable the implementation of reforms;
• Providing recommendations to the President and Cabinet where a decision or agreement is required.
Some of the key reforms outlined in the report are detailed below.
Eskom faces an immediate electricity supply shortage of between 2,000 MW and 3,000 MW according to the IRP 2019, although the actual shortage may be as high as 5,000 MW given a reduced Energy Availability Factor (EAF).
Operation Vulindlela is working with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to establish additional generation capacity as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of load shedding and enable economic growth.
The procurement of 2,000 MW of emergency generation capacity will be followed by the implementation of two further bid windows of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP).
In the short term, the licensing threshold for embedded generation projects will be raised to enable new private investment in generation capacity.
Finally, following amendments to the Electricity Regulations on New Generation Capacity in October 2020, steps will be taken to facilitate the procurement of power by municipalities from independent power producers.
Eskom is also undertaking an intensive maintenance programme on its coal-fired plants to improve their performance, with the current high levels of maintenance expected to have a positive impact on load shedding during the latter half of 2021.
Operation Vulindlela is working with a range of government departments to put in place a comprehensive support programme for the turnaround of municipal electricity distribution businesses, starting in the metros.
Icasa is preparing to auction high demand spectrum in the 700Mhz, 800Mhz and 2.6Ghz frequency ranges.
These bands are known as the “digital dividend” as they allow signals to travel over a longer distance, resulting in fewer transmission towers and base stations being required.
The auction of spectrum is likely to reduce the cost of mobile broadband and improve network quality while raising revenue for the state.
While this was originally scheduled to take place by the end of March 2021, this process has been delayed due to a legal battle between Telkom and Icasa.
The migration from analogue to digital signal is necessary to free up additional spectrum for mobile telecommunications. At present, the analogue television signal occupies much of the highly valuable 700MHz and 800MHz frequency bands.
The switch-off of analogue transmission towers will begin in March 2021 and continue over a period of twelve months.
Low-income households will be provided with a set-top box or a voucher to subsidise its purchase to ensure that they do not lose access to digital broadcasts.
Operation Vulindlela is also working with municipalities and provinces to streamline the approval of wayleaves and expand the delivery of broadband and fibre infrastructure to low-income neighbourhoods.
Operation Vulindlela is working with the Departments of Transport and Public Enterprises as well as Transnet to ensure that corporatisation of the National Ports Authority is implemented in a manner that protects Transnet’s financial position and operational performance.
Reducing costs and improving the efficiency of South Africa’s ports is seen as crucial to the competitiveness of our exports and the overall functioning of the economy.
Operation Vulindlela is also working with the Department of Public Enterprises and Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) to implement the commercial separation of operations and rail infrastructure, which will enable third-party access to the freight rail network and the accurate costing of slots for third-party operators.
In addition, TFR will invest together with the private sector to ensure the viability of branch lines, and is developing enabling policies and access regimes for branch line operators to operate on TFR lines.
A draft White Paper on National Rail Policy comprehensively further sets out the government’s remedial interventions to achieve a ‘rail renaissance’ in the country, to make rail a competitive mode of freight and commuter transport.

South Africa’s approach to critical skills and general work visas should be designed to attract the skills that are needed for the economy to grow, and to compete for these skills in a globally competitive market.
In addition to the publication of a revised critical skills list, which was released for public comment in February 2021, Operation Vulindlela is supporting a comprehensive review of the framework and processes for issuing work permits.
An e-Visa system will also be fully implemented in 2021 following its pilot in 2020.
Operation Vulindlela is working with the Department of Home Affairs to expand visa waivers and to explore the feasibility of introducing a visa recognition programme, which would allow travellers with a valid visa from other recognised countries to enter South Africa.

Home Affairs signs deal with UN refugee agency to deal with asylum seekers backlog

As of the 2019/20 financial year, the Refugee Appeal Authority of SA says the backlog stood at more than 153 000.
The new deal with the **United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will see around R147 million given to RAASA and technical support to eliminate this backlog.
The number of people now who must be cleared via this backlog is 163 000.
The Department of Home Affairs has signed an agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR ) to eliminate delays and a backlog in decisions for asylum seekers.
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said: “I am happy that the UNHCR is partnering with the government and people of South Africa in eliminating the backlog in the asylum seeker system.
“The start of this backlog coincided with the year 2008 when there was a global financial crisis. Up until then, the department was able to clear asylum applications which it was receiving each year from 1998, the year in which the Refugee Act of South Africa was enacted.”
As of the 2019/20 financial year, the Refugee Appeal Authority of SA (RAASA), an independent statutory administrative tribunal tasked with ensuring that appeal cases are dealt with efficiently, said the backlog stood at more than 153 000. The Auditor-General said, if nothing changed, it would take 68 years to clear the backlog, without taking new cases.
“The partnership we are launching brings in financial and technical support to help RAASA eliminate the backlog and establish a robust asylum appeals management programme going into the future. Over the next four years, the UNHCR will make available US$9.6 million or around R147 million to RAASA and technical support to eliminate this backlog,” Motsoaledi said.
Motsoaledi said the agreement would see the UNHCR pay for 36 new members of Raasa, including their training and equipment. The number of people now who must be cleared via this backlogs is 163 000.
Currently in Cape Town, thousands of refugees are displaced after they fled their homes due to xenophobia fears. They have been relocated to two temporary sites – one in Bellville Paint City and the others at Wingfield Military site in Goodwood.
Parliament’s home affairs portfolio committee has since intervened to either repatriate people back to their home countries or to reintegrate the refugees back into their communities.
The committee had set March 15 as the deadline for the UNHCR, the City and the Department of Home Affairs together to come up with a plan for the former Greenmarket Square refugees.

The Home Affairs Department to offer birth registration service at health facilities throughout the country over the Human Rights Day long weekend

The Department of Home Affairs will be offering birth registration services this Human Rights Day weekend at health facilities nationwide.
The registration weekend is held to assist parents to register their children within 30 days of birth as is required by the law.
This is the second weekend that the Department of Home Affairs is celebrating the Human Rights Month by extending services which can help parents and their children to access key government and other services.
This year’s Human Rights Day will be commemorated this Sunday under the theme: “The year of Charlotte Maxeke: promoting human rights in the Age of COVID-19”.
By registering births immediately or within the first 30 days of such births, parents contribute in promoting their children’s human rights. Birth registration marks the beginning of the fulfilment of the constitutional right to citizenship and protects the child’s right to a name and a nationality at birth. Failure to register the child is tantamount to denial of the child’s right to citizenship.
During the first weekend registration drive on 13 March 2021, there were 2 060 births registered.
Home Affairs officials will be at offices at health facilities from 08:00 until 15:00 daily, on 20 to 22 March 2021.
We urge everyone who comes to register their child to observe social distancing, sanitise their hands regularly and to wear their masks properly, covering their noses and mouths.
Nobody will be assisted if they are not wearing their masks properly.

Europe’s third Covid wave on the way as hospitalisations mount, Italy in lockdown

• Germany, Italy, and other countries in Europe enforced new lockdown measures as COVID-19 cases rise.
• Infectious disease expert Lothar Wieler said the third COVID-19 wave in Germany had “already begun.”
• Much of Europe has lagged behind the US and the UK in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine.
Many nations in Europe are entering into new nationwide lockdowns as COVID-19 cases rise.MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images
Italy, the first country to enter into a nationwide lockdown in Europe back in March 2020, imposed new restrictions on March 15, 2021, to slow the third wave.
Italy’s seven-day average of new cases has increased steadily in March. The country is reporting more than 22,000 average cases per seven days, and 360 average deaths per seven days.
France resisted pressure to impose another lockdown as of March 17. Emergency resuscitation units in France are at the highest capacity since November.
France’s leading doctors urged President Emmanuel Macron to impose a lockdown, and said failing to do so would cost lives.
Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, told reporters the third COVID-19 wave in Germany had “already begun” in early March.
Dirk Brockmann, an epidemiologist at the Robert Koch Institute, said COVID-19 cases had risen “exponentially” due to easing restrictions too soon and the spread of transmissible variants.
Germany extended its coronavirus shutdown until March 28.
Doctors criticised the country’s slow vaccine rollout: Germany vaccinated fewer than 10% of its population as of mid-March.
Hungary, which has had a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and online-only high school classes since November, imposed new restrictions in early March. The country now requires businesses to close doors for two weeks, allowing only grocery stores and pharmacies to stay open.
One thousand supporters of Hungary’s far-right party, Mi Hazank Mozgalom, held a demonstration demanding an end to the restrictions. The country’s daily new COVID-19 case count is at an all-time high.
Poland announced a three-week partial lockdown, closing shops, hotels, and theaters starting March 20. The country reported 25,052 new COVID-19 cases this week, the highest toll in 2021.
The Czech Republic deployed police officers and soldiers to enforce lockdown measures in early March that aim to get citizens to stay home.
Much of Europe has lagged behind the US and the UK in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine due to supply shortages.
Many European countries – including Germany and Italy – paused the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine as investigators look into reports of blood clots in a handful of recipients. The World Health Organizations urged countries to continue using AstraZeneca’s vaccine, and said blood clots are one of the most common cardiovascular conditions globally.
AstraZeneca said their vaccine offers less protection against mild disease caused by the COVID-19 variant first discovered in South Africa, but offers the same efficacy against two other major variants.