Newsmaker – Tumelo Mboweni: A stranger at home

The former SA Reserve Bank governor’s son was almost deported because police believed he was ‘too dark’ to be South African.

Feelings of anger and frustration flooded Tumelo Mboweni when he was hauled out of a taxi in Sandton, northern Joburg, by a police officer who believed he was too dark to be a South African.

It brought back ugly memories, as it has happened to him before.

Last Saturday, the 24-year-old son of former SA Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni was on his way to meet a friend for breakfast in Sandton when his taxi was stopped at a roadblock manned by SAPS and Joburg metro police officers.

A police officer pulled the taxi over.

“He then opened the passenger door and looked into the taxi as though he was doing a head count. Then he saw me and said: ‘You! Come out,’” Tumelo was quoted as saying this week.

He knew what was coming.

The officer searched him and asked for his passport, which he did not have on him.

“You’re a foreigner here and as you don’t have a passport, we’re going to deport you. You’re under arrest,” the officer reportedly said.

The news of his near-arrest broke on Sunday after his father took to Twitter to vent his fury: “I am now gatvol with xenophobic police. I will?...?phone the minister of police to complain about what happened,” Tito Mboweni tweeted.

Senior detectives have now been assigned to investigate and police have ordered Tumelo not to talk to the media about the case.

But he has a lot to say.

Tumelo, who does not own a car, is on holiday with his parents in picturesque Magoebaskloof outside Tzaneen in Limpopo. He agreed to meet City Press halfway. We sat down at a coffee shop in Polokwane’s Mall of the North.

The slightly-built man of average height holds a degree in public administration and plans to study further.

He is not very dark-skinned (I am darker than he is).

We speak about what happened to him back in 2007, when police officers insisted he was a foreigner.

They confiscated his passport and temporary driver’s licence, and demanded that he prove he was who he claimed to be.

“My only sin was being dark,” he said.

“I was with a friend in Norwood, Joburg, and it was a Friday. The police drove in front of my car and blocked my way. They demanded my licence and I gave it to them. They asked if I had supporting documents to prove that I was who I was claiming to be, and I gave them my passport.”

But the officers, who judged his isiZulu to be below par, confiscated his passport, saying he should come and pick it up from the Johannesburg Central Police Station the following Monday.

Tumelo, who is Tsonga but speaks seSotho and English, said the police said that if he was really South African, he should be able to speak xiTsonga and one more local language, at the very least.

“My xiTsonga is really touch and go. We speak seSotho and a lot of English at home. My mother is Sotho,” he says.

His father told him to hire a lawyer, who accompanied him to the police station.

But when he got there, the police were not interested in anything the lawyer had to say.

“They told me I was an illegal immigrant who had committed identity fraud. They said if I don’t call my parents to come prove that I was their son, they were going to lock me up and deport me.”

Tumelo called his father.

“He came and when they saw who he was they apologised and released me,” he said.

After Saturday’s incident, Tumelo says he had never been so angry.

“How many people have to go through this every day? The racial profiling of people is wrong, it is very wrong. It’s a serious social injustice. If you do that, you are a stone’s throw away from discriminating against others on the basis of race and sex,” he says.

Tumelo, who has recently travelled to London, said he never receives such treatment overseas.

“When you get there people ask where you are from because they are curious about learning your culture.”

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