Treachery at midnight

At a stroke past Saturday midnight, Thijs van Hillegondsberg becomes a wanted man.

He will be arrested at his Strand home, jailed, tried, likely committed to a Home Affairs detention centre, processed and eventually bundled onto a plane to the Netherlands.

This is because Van Hillegondsberg is an illegal immigrant and has been served with a deportation order that he has no intention of obeying. Van Hillegondsberg, unlike various notorious European criminals who flourish here mysteriously untouched by officialdom, is not a crook. He is a water quality specialist who in his entire 56-year life has never been accused of a crime.

Van Hillegondsberg runs a successful business. He pays his social dues and since his arrival in South Africa 17 years ago, he and his wife have displayed a degree of community involvement that puts most to shame. Van Hillegondsberg is a family man. He and his wife Pamela Poelman have a 21-year-old natural son, Ludo, who is in third year medicine at the University of Stellenbosch. They have two adopted children: Thembisa Masisa, 18, and Jan Oktober, 16. This is not your average illegal immigrant.

He didn’t bundle through border barbed wire but he does share with an estimated five million illegal African immigrants one thing: a fierce desire to make a new life here. And Thijs has tried hard to regularise his status, spending hundreds of thousands of rands trying to convert his temporary residency into permanent status.

There is no obvious answer to why he has been unable to do so.

Not even Ronnie Mamoepa, the deputy-director of communication at Home Affairs, can explain why Van Hillegondsberg must go, except to say: ‘He has broken the law by being in SA illegally. It is the constitutional duty of the minister to uphold the law. He must leave or he will go to jail.’

Whatever the administrative technicalities that thwarted the family’s initial application in 1996, when they in 2001 by High Court order adopted the two children that they had been fostering, the parents automatically became entitled to SA residence.

The simple reality is that Thijs and his family are victims of a Kafkaesque nightmare of bureaucratic nit-picking, arrogant officialdom, and civil servants who think nothing of flouting the laws they are sworn to uphold. Successive Public Protectors tried to take up the family’s case but Home Affairs ignored subpoenas and refused to open their files to inspection, as obligated by law.

Then along came Thuli Madonsela, the one-woman Protector whirlwind, who cut through the Home Affairs obfuscation to rule in 2012 that Thijs and his family had been the victims of Home Affairs maladministration and abuse of power. The then-minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma failed however to meet the deadline to take the remedial action decreed – permanent residence by special ministerial exemption.

Naledi Pandor has since inherited the Portfolio from Hell and ruled that she could discern no ‘special circucumstances’ justifying an exemption. It was followed by a deportation order for This alone – in 1999 both he and his wife had to return to Holland, then were allowed to return – meaning the family will be split up.

This is out of money and out of options. He is quietly adamant, though, that he will rather go to jail than leave.

On Sunday that will likely happen.