Why can't I prove my child exists?
I still can’t believe it. I have not come to terms with the fact that she does not have a birth certificate. That piece of paper that will recognise her, that will allow her to attend school, get a a passport and make her a citizen of the country where she was born, where her parents and all of her ancestors have lived for generations. That little piece of paper that will make my beautiful daughter exist.
I want more than anything to abide by Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba’s announcement this week that will require – as of December 2015 – parents to register their children within a month of their birth or be faced with a child who does not exist in the eyes of the South African government.
Gigaba said that in the past year just 64% of all births were registered within 30 days, leaving 72 000 children off the population register.
My child is one of them. But it has not been for a lack of trying.
Tumelo Tokollo Nkosi is the third child in our family. She was born on February 14 at a clinic in Zola, Soweto. It was an exhilarating but frightening day, given the child mortality rate in public hospitals. But she was delivered naturally and without any complications.
We have a photo of her taken shortly after the delivery. The tiny Tumelo looked very pale and her lips were bright red, as though her mother had carefully applied red lipstick to them. In my excitement, I immediately shared the photo with my extended family.
It is now five months later and my daughter still doesn’t have a birth certificate. We went to apply for it at the home affairs office in Maponya Mall, when Tumelo was just a few days old. But we were sent away because of a problem with my wife’s ID document.
We were told that she has two ID numbers and that an investigation of six months would have to be conducted before any birth certificate would be issued.
My presence did not matter at all, even though I insisted that my daughter should be able to be registered under my name. I’m her dad, for heaven’s sake. But the clerk at home affairs waved me away as if I, too, did not exist.
Tumelo has grown so much in the past few months. She’s learning to sit on her own and is able to recognise family members. She’s a happy child, easy to handle and doesn’t cry without good reason. She usually wakes up very early and starts kicking her tiny feet on her mother’s thighs until my wife wakes up to breastfeed her. Sometimes, though, Tumelo stays quietly in bed and, out of curiosity, she starts to poke her fingers in our nostrils. Shapes, sounds and visuals intrigue her. She screams with excitement when she sees herself in the mirror or on a video clip.
The waiting game has proved to be a nuisance. Her life has been put on hold. Without a birth certificate we can’t open a bank account for her and she cannot attend nursery school.
At least her health card, which is used to check her growth, has given her access to a clinic.
Why, as her biological father, could I not register her under my name if her mom could not? If that basic right is disputed, then what role do I actually play in the paperwork of my child’s existence?
This just perpetuates the stereotype that society has about men – that they cannot be trusted, that they are less caring, that their role in their child’s life is just as a useless appendage. I feel violated and not taken seriously as a father.
At home we are all unsettled by many thoughts of “what ifs”. What if something happens to us? What if something happens to her? What if the investigation is longer than anticipated?
I guess for now we just have to wonder.
Home affairs had not responded to our questions at the time of going to press.
UPDATE: On Monday July 21, I received a call from Lungile Mkhulise (Regional Home Affairs Department) after the story was published. My wife was asked by Mkhulise to come immediately to their offices in Maponya to re-apply for my daughter’s birth certificate. Less than two hours later, Tumelo was registered as a South African citizen. Thanks to the Department and more especially Mkhulise for intervening. I hope they will do the same to other citizens that are faced with similar or worse challenges.