24. Apr. 2023 You

I’m officially a South African: joy of Limpopo man who’s battled to get an ID for 10 years

For years his life was in limbo. He struggled to get a job, couldn’t get a driver’s licence and he wasn’t able to get married all because he wasn’t recognised as a South African citizen.

Tebogo Khoza (26) was born in South Africa but he had nothing to prove it. For almost a decade he’s battled to show he is who he says he is and finally he has the precious piece of paper that will allow him to get on with his life.

The North Gauteng high court in Pretoria recently ruled the department of home affairs should register him as a South African and issue him with an identity document.

The first step was giving him a birth certificate and when he received it he could hardly believe his eyes.

“I was very happy,” he tells YOU.
“On the night of the court verdict I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking, ‘When I get my ID, I’m going to get a driver’s licence and a passport’.” - Tebogo Khoza
According to the births and deaths registration act of 1992, all children born in South Africa must be registered within 30 days.

Tebogo’s parents didn’t register him because they were undocumented immigrants �` so to all intents and purposes, their son didn’t exist.

“I grew up in a rural area. At times I wanted to go live in town so I could find work there or work in a mine, but I couldn’t because I had no documents,” he recalls.

When he was six years old his mother passed away and the Thabang Children’s Project later took him in.
Cecil White, who used to work at the child and youth centre in Thabazimbi, Limpopo, accompanied Tebogo to their local home affairs office to apply for his birth certificate and ID when the boy was 16. They had no idea just how long it would take to get those life-changing documents.

Yet Cecil (60) resolved to see it through. He even sought legal counsel from Lawyers for Human Rights to help the young man he regarded as his own son.
“I thought if there was one last battle I would fight, it would be this,” Cecil says.

His hard work was rewarded when the high court ruled in their favour. “God answered my prayers,” Tebogo says.

Tebogo’s parents fled political unrest in Eswatini and entered SA illegally before he was born.

He can’t remember much of his early childhood but recalls being raised by his mom in an informal settlement near Thabazimbi, after his parents split up. He didn’t have a relationship with his father.
When his mother passed away after an illness, his maternal grandmother, Lucy Ndlovu, tracked him down to take care of him. But they ended up depending on the welfare of others because she wasn’t a South African citizen and couldn’t access any social assistance from the government.

Lucy collected food parcels from the Thabang Children’s Project, a non-governmental organisation that helps vulnerable children in the community by providing them with meals, school stationery and casual clothes, among other things.

The NGO also has a centre that houses abandoned kids and children in need and in December 2006 Lucy made the tough decision to hand her grandson over to carers so they could raise him.

For Tebogo, it was a blessing. “When I got there, I saw other kids playing. I could play, eat and just be like a child. That’s why I loved it there,” he says.

He was nine when he arrived at the centre, Cecil recalls. “He had no birth certificate, no paperwork, he hadn’t received any schooling.”

However, he saw potential in the young boy and helped put him through school. Cecil admits it was a tough task because schools were reluctant to accept him without documentation and he basically had to go on his knees and beg for Tebogo to be enrolled.
`Our country has a very good constitution and a good children’s act. It states that every child has the right to an education.` - Cecil White
“Even if a child doesn’t have a birth certificate, according to the childcare act, a child has a right to care, safety and education. We fought on those grounds and we won.”
Living without documentation became even more challenging as Tebogo grew older so he and Cecil turned to the department of home affairs for help.
Officials said they couldn’t register him because he didn’t have any documents to verify his birth and told him to go to Eswatini to have his birth registered there and get a passport.

Cecil accompanied him but the pair faced another hurdle at the border when Eswatini officials refused them entry, despite the fact they had documentation from home affairs detailing the reason for their visit.

“I was very confused because both South Africa and Eswatini refused me citizenship. Like, where am I from? I was shocked at how people treated me,” Tebogo says.

“They treated me like I’m a foreigner and like I’m nothing. I started thinking, ‘Why doesn’t God open a door for me?’”

Cecil wasn’t going to give up without a fight. He contacted the department of home affairs several times to find a solution and after being sent from pillar to post he eventually turned to Lawyers for Human Rights.

Lawyer Thandeka Chauke was part of the team who acted on Tebogo’s behalf and submitted applications to the home affairs office in Lephalale, Limpopo, and to the home affairs minister to have his birth registered.

When there was no response, they turned to the high court as a last resort, she says.

“Our motion was granted by the court and the department of home affairs had 30 days to comply with the court order. The 30 days expired on 30 March and on that date the department indicated they had generated an ID number for him and issued his birth certificate.

“He’s now waiting on his smartcard ID. He was told they couldn’t issue it on the same day because the systems were down and they had to send it to another home affairs office.”
The card should be ready in a couple of weeks and Tebogo is looking forward to getting on with his life. He’s working as an animal-keeper on a game farm in Limpopo �` a job Cecil helped him get as he waited for his documentation. Cecil has been with him on every step of his journey and Tebogo regards him as a father figure.

“He’s the one who helped me and taught me about life,” he says. “He taught me how to be a man.”

Tebogo and his partner, Maria Mlthali (26), have a five-year-old son, Junior. When Maria was pregnant, he proposed but he couldn’t plan a wedding because he didn’t have the required paperwork that would allow him to marry.

Now he plans to do exactly that. “It’s like I have millions in my hands,” he says.

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