After battling for more a year and going to court twice, Wendy Kessman and Nomfundo Ngidi, a lesbian couple, have finally been granted a visa — but it is the wrong one.
Since Kessman, a United States citizen, and Ngidi, who is South African, entered into a civil union in January 2017, they have been trying to get a spousal visa for Kessman. Their attempts were met with two written rejections and, according to the couple, “a verbally harassing phone call from a department [of home affairs] official”.
Last month, the high court in Johannesburg instructed the department to respond within 10 working days to the couple’s appeal against the department’s earlier refusal. When the department did not respond within the court-ordered period, Ngidi says the couple were “disappointed but not surprised”.
On Thursday, August 30 — nearly two weeks late — the department informed the couple that their application for a spousal visa had been approved.
Since Kessman’s tourist visa expired in March 2017, she has been unable to leave South Africa, legally work or study, open a bank account and drive.
Although the couple welcomed the news that they have been granted a spousal visa as “a milestone”, they face another hurdle because the visa issued does not allow Kessman to work or study in South Africa.
“It’s basically the wrong visa. The one we’ve applied for would allow Wendy to study and work here,” says Ngidi.
“We’ve been joking about it, saying that what the department has given us is a housewife’s visa. Like: ‘You can stay in the country with your spouse but you can’t really be an active citizen,’” Ngidi adds.
Kessman says that “having to have to go through yet another step [to be issued with the correct visa] is a little disappointing”.
The couple’s lawyers will apply for a rectification of the visa.
For now, the couple’s first priority is to visit Kessman’s family in the US.
“Before we start that process, I’m going to go home and see my family first because I haven’t seen them since 2016,” says Kessman. “We’re really excited that we can finally go home.”
Kessman says not eventually being issued with the correct visa “is just not an option for us”.
“We’ve made it this far, so we’ll keep on pushing as far as we need to. Both of us are pretty determined and persistent, so we’ll find a way to make it work,” she laughs.
“For now, we are really happy. This a huge load off our shoulders,” says Ngidi.
The couple told Mamba Online that they believe the response “probably” would not have come “if it wasn’t for the support we got from the media, advocacy groups and the department of justice”.
Carl Collison is The Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian