Mr President, please halt the deprivation of citizenship

2018-10-09 14:47

I write this to you with feelings of dismay and disappointment at the news that your government intends opposing case 48418/18 challenging the constitutionality of Section 6.1 of the Citizenship Act.  Dismay because the restoration of my citizenship may be delayed (but not prevented – justice will prevail) and therefore on my next trip home the pain of having to arrive on a foreign passport will still be there. 

Disappointment because I had believed a government led by yourself would be better than that.  I think I still believe, maybe more hope, that your government is indeed above such vindictive conduct which is why I am writing this letter in the faint hope that you read this and align the Minster of Home Affairs with the letter and spirit of the constitution of our country.

As an aside Sir, and with the deepest of respect, what on earth were you thinking reappointing Gigaba to this important post?  Hasn’t he inflicted enough misery on the longsuffering people of our country?  I understand that there may be political considerations preventing you from banishing him to the wilderness where he belongs but surely you could have found a less disastrous way to do so. I suggest you could follow the lead of Theresa May in dealing with a similarly incompetent, self-important, irrelevance – appoint him Foreign Minister.  It seems this is becoming a novelty portfolio tailor-made for such a situation. 

A bolder approach may be to appoint him Minister for Ideas but with the absolutely critical proviso that whatever he suggests the applicable department does exactly the opposite. An example would be the untold harm done to the tourism industry through his imposition of onerous requirements on the travel of minors to South Africa. Clearly this was not a good idea otherwise you would not have recently announced the reversal of these requirements as part of your stimulus package.

You may say that you have much important things to worry about than caring about whether South Africans, who by definition have left the country and therefore be dismissed as unpatriotic and irrelevant, have been stripped of their citizenship. 

To that response, Sir, I respectfully provide two apparently contrary, but equally valid responses – Exactly; and, No you don’t.  I agree the government has much more important things to do than defend the deprival of South African citizenship.  Surely, every action your government takes and every Rand it spends should be directed at improving the quality of life of the people of South Africa. 

This isn’t just common sense and good government; it is an objective clearly listed in the preamble to the Constitution. I defy you, Sir, to credibly justify how the decision to defend the deprivation of citizenship improves the quality of life of all citizens and frees the potential of each person. Given Gigaba’s difficulty focusing on this objective I humbly provide a suggestion. Rather focus on better processes so that South Africans can get the documents needed to work without having to invest excessive time and money (through lost wages) to do so – transform Horror Affairs to what it is meant to be, Home Affairs.

Whilst conceding that you have many equally important things to attend to, I would vigorously disagree that you do not have more important duties than to obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution – it was right there in your oath of office. On paper, at least, we are considered to have one of the best constitutions (ask US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) but my observation is that it is something of a paper tiger now not afforded the respect envisaged when it was drafted.

The Constitution clearly states that no citizen shall be deprived of citizenship yet your government without any apparent compunction does so on a routine basis on the pretext that the victim did not request permission before taking out the citizenship of another country. 

Failure to comply with such a pointless, bureaucratic requirement (again, to an earlier point, how does this step help improve the lives of South Africans) is somehow seen to trump the Constitution’s clear directive that citizenship is not the government’s to take away as it sees fit.  Citizenship is ours, not yours, but unfortunately you control the population register so appear to believe you can do what you want in this regard with the paper tiger powerless to help us.  However, I have to believe that, unless the courts are working from an extremely unconventional dictionary this situation will soon be resolved.

The Oxford Dictionary defines deprive as preventing a person from having or using something. That is exactly what happened to me and the others in a similar position – the Department of Home Affairs used their control of the population register to forcibly remove us. The DHA, perhaps having some awareness of the unconstitutionality of their actions, describes the result of what they do as “losing” citizenship as if it is somehow the victim’s fault, akin to carelessly leaving their citizenship on the bus. 

The Oxford Dictionary again, would have short thrift with this argument defining lose to be deprived of or cease to have.  I have to wonder how Gigaba can look at the conduct of his department and the requirements of the Constitution and conclude that the two are aligned. Maybe this decision to oppose the motion is driven purely by his over-sized ego as is speculated to have been the case with the child travel fiasco.

Another area where the DHA runs roughshod over the Constitution is in its treatment of citizens not born in South Africa. The Constitution states that there is a common citizenship and that all citizens are equally entitled to the rights, privileges and benefits of citizenship. The DHA, in contrast, offers citizens born in South Africa who were stripped of their citizenship an automatic right of return; naturalised citizens deprived of their citizenship are offered no such route. 

South African born citizens are offered a Smart ID card whereas other citizens are stuck with the old ID book. This is not only unconstitutional it is criminally irresponsible in a country with the propensity for xenophobic outbreaks of violence. Rampaging thugs would be aided in deciding who to maim or kill by their victims’ inability to produce a Smart ID card indicating they were free to pass unscathed unlike those holding the dreaded ID book. I really struggle to see how this is different from what the Nazis did to the Jews in forcing them to have special identity cards.

My citizenship was taken away because I didn’t fill in a form requesting permission.  What value does that form serve?  Does it make South Africa safer? Has anyone actually had a request declined?  I am highly confident the answer is no, and therefore it is purely a pointless bureaucratic exercise diverting resources away from delivering services that citizens and residents actually need such as getting a correct birth certificate within a reasonable timeframe. 

I went travelling and met my now wife – I took out the citizenship of her country to ensure I would always be able to return to her country with her but unwittingly condemned myself from being able to return to my country. I was born overseas therefore I am barred from returning despite having centuries of South African heritage.

Let’s assume I was lucky enough to be in the privileged (SA-born) citizenship class and therefore able to return.  I complete a form and then four months or so later get the confirmation that I have lost my citizenship but that I have the right to live there. I get on the plane and fly back to South Africa.  One of my first stops is at DHA to get a new ID number. I am diverting resources from the department trying to get the new smartcards out to the people which I understand will take years. A year later I am eligible to resume my citizenship, so I fill in a form which again has to be processed by someone who could otherwise be doing more value-added tasks. Once my citizenship is returned I then go back to DHA to get another ID number, maybe the same one I had before my citizenship was taken away. I respectfully suggest the whole process is utterly pointless and absolutely counter to the directive in the Bill of Rights to promote an efficient administration.

Whilst I am confident the courts will remedy this matter I believe it would be significantly more encouraging for the future of our country if your government was to do the right thing without needing to be compelled to do so.

Best wishes



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