Himeville ‘booms’ for the wrong reason

2012-05-17 00:00

ABOUT a thousand foreigners, including refugees, have descended on the Drakensberg village of Himeville in the hope of being issued South African identity documents.

A man who spoke to The Witness on condition of anonymity said he and others had paid R150 at the local Home Affairs office.

The department confirmed that this would be illegal and would investigate the claims.

The influx of people followed the launch of a project to profile immigrants living in Himeville who were from nearby Lesotho.

Since Monday people have been streaming into the village from all over South Africa after word had spread that they could be issued with ID books.

Some arrived on public transport while others came in private cars, all the way from Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town.

They were under the impression that for just R150, they would be given a receipt, and after three months, be issued with a green South African ID book.

“I have tried several times to get papers, but I have always failed,” said 45-year-old Akim Nzatanga, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He said he arrived in Himeville on Monday, and had been sleeping outdoors.

“It gets very cold here at night, and not even three jackets can keep you warm,” he said.

Chaos erupted on Tuesday when locals swelled the numbers of people at the office, housed in a building used also as a pre-primary school and a crèche, to collect their pensions.

“There was a disturbance reported at the scene, but no charges were opened,” said a local police officer.

Computer problems also affected the ID processing.

“After I had paid my R150, we were told that the computers were offline, and they stopped helping us,” said another refugee from the DRC, adding that he was heading back to Durban.

“The weather is bad. I am leaving now because I can’t continue to live like this,” he said.

The office was closed when The Witness arrived, and the numbers of people had begun to dwindle.

However, Nzatanga and a few others said they would not leave until they have received their receipts.

“I heard from three people that they were issuing IDs in Himeville. I then heard the same thing from another guy who is from the same country as me, and he advised me to come here,” said another man.

With the office closed yesterday and no one being registered, he said he wished there was someone he and his friends could speak to.

“We want to know why others were helped, and others did not get help. We want to find out why they are taking money,” he said.

David Adam, a councillor from the Sisonke District Municipality, said he was under the impression the immigrants would be issued with temporary permits to stay in the country for three months.

“This was meant to address the issue of immigrants in this area from Lesotho. Now there are people here from various other countries,” he said.

“On Monday, I spoke to some people who had come from Malawi. There were even some women who were wearing their burquas.”

The Underberg/Himeville Community Watch said there had been a concern in the community following the influx of the immigrants to the town.

“They have nowhere to stay, so security will be an issue,” said CEO John Pearce.

“There seemed to have been no communication from the Department of Home Affairs because the municipality was not briefed about this,” he said.

He said there hadn’t heard of any serious incidents as the Himeville police had been keeping an eye on the situation.

The national manager of the project to register immigrants, Thobile Yanta, said immigrants had been communicating with one another all over the country, saying they were being registered.

He said the process, also taking place in Matatiele, was scheduled to take three months and aimed to create a data base of immigrants living in South Africa. It was being conducted in border areas.

“People are streaming in from all over, with the hope that they will be given ID documents and passports,” said Yanta.

“After this is done, the department will determine who qualifies to live in the country.”

He confirmed that their being charged R150 was illegal, and that the department would investigate such claims.

“The Department of Home Affairs distances itself from that practice,” he said, adding that the people who were processing the registrations were field workers who were trained from the community.

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