I saved a child from abuse and abandonment - Mapisa-Nqakula

2016-05-22 14:02
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: Deaan Vivier

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: Deaan Vivier

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Cape Town - Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Sunday denied abusing state resources to bring a Burundian woman into the country.

The Sunday Times reported that she smuggled the 28-year-old into South Africa after flying from Waterkloof Air Force Base to the Democratic Republic of Congo to collect her.

The woman was reportedly arrested for falsifying travel documents, which the minister’s sister, who then worked in the Burundian embassy, had arranged for her.

Mapisa-Nqakula said in a statement the Burundian woman had been living with her and her family for the past two years after she left her home to “escape a life of abuse at the hands of her father”.

The woman lost her mother at the age of three. She apparently committed suicide after suffering abuse.

Mimi, as the Mapisa-Nqakulas called her, befriended the minister’s children during holiday visits to Burundi while she was on her diplomatic tour for the South African government. Mimi visited Mapisa-Nqakula twice and spent the 2013 Christmas holidays in South Africa.

“As required by our immigration laws, my family and I provided letters of invitation and confirmation for living expenses in order for her visa to be issued. On both occasions that she had visited us in 2013, Mimi was issued a visa (visitor’s permit) on the presentation of her Burundi passport,” the minister said.

Only after her children returned to Burundi with Mimi for holidays, did they realise she was being abused and had lived with relatives and foster families in Europe, the US and Burundi, since her mother died.

Mimi wanted to live in South Africa for her safety and to study, Mapisa-Nqakula continued.

Her father initially said she could travel to South Africa, but then followed her to the airport with security personnel and demanded that she not travel.  

“Mimi was already over 18 years of age and protested that she can no longer continue to live in a secretive life of abuse and that with her father’s powerful connections she will not receive protection in Burundi.”  

Her father again confiscated her passport, which still had a valid three-month South African visa from her previous travel to South Africa.

Mimi then tried to get papers to leave Burundi on her own, and approached the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That office could not help her as its mandate was to help refugees entering Burundi.

She was advised to seek entry into the Democratic Republic of Congo and told she could get a temporary Congolese passport.

“In order to avoid the risk of alerting her father of the impending escape, she had to assume a false name at the Uvira border. She was assisted with temporary travel documents to travel into the Congo and present herself to the South African embassy and reveal her true identity for assistance and protection.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said she was worried about Mimi’s safety and wrote a letter to the South African embassy in the DRC to help her get a visa.

She was a “classical case for refugee assistance and protection”, but was arrested in the Congo on suspicion of holding a fraudulent document.

She was detained for 10 days. Mapisa-Nqakula travelled to the AU summit in Addis Abba towards the end of January 2014, where she raised Mimi’s situation with the country’s defence minister.

Mimi was released after her situation was investigated. She had kept a copy of her passport with a South African Visa on a memory stick, which allowed her to travel with the minister to Addis Ababa and return to South Africa legally.

Mimi had obtained a study permit and was studying at a college. She had since re-established contact with her family and was due to meet her father in South Africa.

Mapisa-Nqakula  said she had no regrets for helping her.

“I would never have been able to live with my conscience if something had happened to her when I knew that I could have done something to help her.  I believe it was the right thing to do.”

The department said it found the Sunday Times’s story in contravention of the South African Press Code and would be seeking recourse.


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