Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Monday, 31 August 2009 16:07 UK

S Africa probes ID card suicide

Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma  (File photo)
The case moved Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to tears

The South African government is investigating the suicide of a young man who was refused the identity documents he needed to start a job.

A local official reportedly refused to issue the papers to Skhumbuzo Mhlongo, 22, accusing him of being a foreigner.

In the absence of his parents, he was looking after his four siblings.

The case prompted Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to break down in tears at a press conference. She suspects the official wanted a bribe.

There are thousands of other citizens who on a daily basis face the same disgraceful treatment from public servants across all departments
Juanita Terblanche
Democratic Alliance

She said she "would leave no stone unturned" in the investigation into the identity of the official.

The BBC's Pumza Fihlani in Johannesburg says the Department of Home Affairs has come under heavy criticism over the years for its inefficiency in issuing ID documents, birth certificates and passports, with some people claiming to have waited up to four years.

She points out it would be even more difficult to obtain the documents if you have no parents to vouch for your identity.

In response to the case, the Department of Home Affairs has set up a hotline for people to register complaints about its civil servants: 0800-2044-76.

However, it was not working when the BBC tried it on four separate occasions on Monday afternoon.

Suicide note

A senior delegation from the Department of Home Affairs has visited the office in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal province, where his demand was rejected.

Mr Mhlongo had been due to start the new job at a factory which manufactures bird food on Monday.


He apparently left a suicide note before hanging himself.

Home Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mampoepa told the BBC that Mhlongo had been raised by his mother, who disappeared in 2000, leaving him to care for his younger siblings.

He had apparently been trying to get an ID card for some time without any luck.

"He did not have parents. He was the eldest in his family and needed the ID to secure a job as he was the sole bread-winner," said Mr Mamoepa.

Mr Mamoepa told the BBC that Mhlongo had been told to bring someone who could vouch for his nationality.

"We understand he visited the office with an elderly man who shared his surname and told the official that served him that the man was his father."

The official didn't believe the young man's story, tore up Mhlongo's papers and called him a "kwere-kwere" - a derogatory term used for foreign nationals.

The opposition Democratic Alliance welcomed the minister's strong action but said it was not isolated case.

"There are thousands of other citizens who on a daily basis face the same disgraceful treatment from public servants across all departments," DA Home Affairs spokesperson Juanita Terblanche told The Mercury newspaper.

Read some comments about this story:

Rudeness is the word at Home Affairs. Lazy. Tea-drinking. Inefficient. Dirty rooms and basins. Puts a new dimension to the word 'slow'. If you want to experience how a state department should not be managed, visit one.
Ulrich Mors, Pretoria, South Africa

I have a friend who paid 10,000 rand in bribes to get his ID document in time to be allowed to write his first year university exams. I know because I helped him get the money together. He would not go to the authorities because he was afraid that he would then never get his ID document.
TM, Johannesburg, South Africa

I am a British citizen living in South Africa and have found it relatively easy to obtain a visa and work permit as the Life Partner of a South African citizen. However, the service can vary hugely depending on how busy the particular office is. Oddly enough, I experienced more trouble with lawyers than with the officials themselves.
Jeff, Bloemfontein, South Africa

I am a Swiss citizen and took a six month sabbatical to go and do volunteer work in Cape Town. I had to request a visa extension after three months at the Home Affairs in Cape Town and finally received my visa on my eighth visit to Barrack Street. During my visits to the Home Office I had a lot of unique "experiences" such as having to jump the long queues to make it to the front desk before closure, very well dressed business people also jumping the queues and receiving very personal immediate attention from Home Affairs civil servants... On my sixth visit the civil servant told me they lost my application, after which I replied that I was leaving the country without their visa if need be. I complained to other bystanders and happened to be talking to an important Attorney on my eighth visit who put in a good word for me after which I finally got my visa extension a week before I flew home. In summary, a very inefficient and worst of all unequal system. Depending on your status, race, solvency and who you know, people are treated differently.
Gantenbein Ursula, Geneva, Switzerland

I have been a project manager for a small charity outside of Durban and I know the Pinetown home affairs office. I'm originally from England and my project cares for the rural communities and the children that have been orphaned. Very often children are born without ID documents, and the parents can't afford to get taxis or are too sick to follow the process. Older relatives which often can't read or write are left with heavy burdens. It's worth noting that without ID documents, including birth certificates, you cannot receive any governmental support. Often families go very hungry and suffer great losses simply due to the process of getting ID documents. The process of getting even close to getting a birth certificate offers a whole load of other obstacles, not just corrupt civil servants, but administrations in hospitals and funeral homes.
Charlie, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

It's disappointing that for a democratic republic like ours, there are still some awful situation like these which clearly shows some elements of bribe. We have just moved from an era of apartheid into a worse situation of unnecessary bureaucracy. Its real agonizing.
Anthony Chilumba, Cape Town, South Africa

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