What future does SA offer foreigners and their SA-born children?

An example copy of the South African unabridged birth certificate. Picture: Homecoming Revolution

An example copy of the South African unabridged birth certificate. Picture: Homecoming Revolution

Is this a country that does not tolerate foreign nationals and renders their local-born children stateless?

What is the future of the young man or woman who moved to SA with their parents at a young age and settled here? What is the future of a first-generation South African who was born in the country to parents of foreign descent and whose status in the country, as a result, will forever remain “foreign national”?

Recently, the department of home affairs proposed amendments to the Births and Death Registration Act to stipulate that children born in this country to foreign parents will not receive a proper SA birth certificate.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) said: “This issue has already been a problem for the past two or three years. Children born of foreign parents were issued with a ‘notification/confirmation of birth’ and then had to apply for a birth certificate, which took between six and 12 months, and often required parents to return to the country of their own birth for further documents.

“Now, the government is going one step further and rendering children born to foreign parents stateless.”

Unesco reflected on the experience of a Zimbabwean couple who reside in the country, both documented, but who are faced with the challenge of lacking the key requirement for their child to go to school: a birth certificate.

The father expressed his frustration about his son not being allowed to start primary school in the coming year because he didn’t have a birth certificate, despite being born in the country.

He said he didn’t have the luxury of time to go back to his country to apply for a birth certificate – and then wait a year for it to come out – when his son was supposed to start school next month.

Several lobby groups have spoken up against this, both national – including the Centre for Child Law, Lawyers for Human Rights, Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town and University of Cape Town Refugee Law Clinic – and international, including organisations such as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

But what is the intention of such an amendment? Our constitution states anyone born here, who has a parent who is a South African citizen or has permanent residence, is entitled to citizenship. This amendment implies children born to foreign parents who are legally resident here are not entitled to South African citizenship.

Some time ago, when the government introduced the new ID card, they said they would only be issued – initially at least – to those born in South Africa.

This makes it easy to pick out a foreigner. Just like the yellow Star of David the Nazis used to identify Jews, perhaps?

Is this a glimpse into the future of South Africa? A country that does not tolerate foreign nationals and that tries its best to make it as unwelcoming as possible?

Does the government feel the proposed restrictions will draw the foreign investors to the country, like President Cyril Ramaphosa is lobbying for?

All these questions remain unanswered …

And so does the fate of the person living legally in South Africa (or who has even perhaps been naturalised) who remains a foreign national – and whose children may be rendered stateless.

Chisom Jenniffer Okoye.

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