South Africa’s undocumented pupils

Marcia Lesese
Marcia Lesese

Without a valid ID or passport, pupils cannot write their matric exams unless they get an affidavit explaining why the documents are missing

Sizwe Xala* is stuck with a useless matric certificate that he obtained after fraudulently getting hold of a birth certificate that enabled him to write his matric exams.

He regrets his actions and feels like the years he spent at school have been wasted.

Xala was one of millions of pupils who reached matric without any form of documentation.

His father was an undocumented Mozambican national and his mother an undocumented local woman living in Belfast, Mpumalanga.

In February, the department of basic education revealed in Parliament that close to 1.2 million pupils in the country’s schools were undocumented, including many from other countries, especially in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

City Press has established that there are children from Lesotho who are studying in rural schools in Matatiele, Eastern Cape.

Pupils whose parents are from Swaziland and Mozambique are studying in Belfast, Mpumalanga.

Some were born in South Africa, but their parents were undocumented immigrants, so the pupils did not have the necessary documents.

Government has undertaken to verify pupils’ details to – among other things – ensure it does not pay for pupils who do not exist.

It pays R1 316 a month, the highest, for a pupil at a poor school (quintile 1) and R228 a month, the lowest, for a pupil in a well-resourced school (quintile 5).

Xala claims he was born on February 26 1992, but he cannot prove this.

His clinic card, he said, was burnt at his home years ago and when he went back to Belfast clinic to get a copy, nurses refused to help him.

After studying until matric at Mandondo High school in Belfast, he took a false identity and renamed himself Xola Tiko*.

He feared he would not be allowed to sit for exams without an ID. With the help of a neighbour, whose name is known to City Press, Xala got a birth certificate after she posed as his mother at the department of home affairs in Hazyview.

With the new identity, which recorded that he was born on August 19 1998, Xala wrote matric.

After he got his matric certificate, he went to home affairs to apply for an ID book, but he was told that an ID book had already been issued to a person using the same details recorded on his birth certificate.

“I thought getting matric would give me a better life. But this has not been the case. It’s like I’m not alive. I can’t even prove this matric certificate is really mine because I don’t have an ID and this birth certificate is also not mine.

“I cannot find a stable job because I don’t have any identity documents. My two boys are not
even using my surname,” Xala said.

This year, two matriculants told City Press that they were sent home by Mandondo High School principal Bhiza Ndlovu because they did not have IDs.

Nongovernmental organisation Keeping Our Kids Clean has been trying to help the pupils, but had had no success because Ndlovu allegedly would not cooperate, the organisation’s Marcia Lesese said.

She said there were cases in the past in which pupils were allowed to write without IDs, but things had changed.

Lesese said that, even when their guardians were armed with affidavits and using their passports, undocumented pupils were not allowed to register for exams or even get IDs from home affairs.

Ndlovu denied he was uncooperative and referred questions to the Mpumalanga education department.

Lucky Ditaunyane, spokesperson for Umalusi – a body responsible for matric quality assurance – said that it became compulsory in November for pupils to have IDs or a passport so they could sit for exams.

However, he referred questions to the basic education department, which conducts the exams.

Spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the basic education department would approach Mandondo High School and ask it to register the affected matriculants so that they could sit for exams.

He said the department would not “exclude” pupils who did not have valid South African ID books from writing matric, but they would need to “produce some alternative form of identification with an affidavit” confirming the reasons for their failure to produce an ID.

“The pupil will [be] able to write exams and will receive his or her results, but will not receive the certification from the quality assurance council,” said Mhlanga.

“In the case of foreign candidates who do not have the relevant documentation, but have attended the South African schooling system, the department will allow these candidates to register to write the examination. But these candidates will not have their results issued until they produce the necessary documentation.”

Mhlanga said there were many pupils without identification documents.

He said the basic education department had a partnership with the department of home affairs to deal with undocumented pupils in all the provinces.

“Both departments are committed to ensuring that every pupil has an ID or passport, but there are always people coming into the country without documents, so the matter will remain with us for years to come.”

He said Umalusi would not issue a certificate if a matriculant did not present a valid ID or passport.

*Not his real name

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24


Read the digital editions of City Press here.
Read now
Voting Booth
President Cyril Ramaphosa has praised outgoing Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng for his outstanding leadership and service. Do you agree?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
He served well.
63% - 173 votes
He was too controversial
37% - 103 votes