A Plea for Help: “Being a foreigner in SA is a pandemic itself & Covid-19 worsened it”

Nyanisi Ngoveni

By Ntsako Shivambu

Nyanisi Ngoveni(35) arrived in South Africa in 1987 in the then Bantustan of Gazankulu, she was only two years old.

She came with her deceased mother who escaped the deadly Mozambican civil war.  She was an infant as such she cannot recall anything about her birth place Mozambique. Her mother separated from her family members and due to war she died without locating any of her relatives or her husband who she believes died in the war.

For Nyanisi, Makhuva village where her mother was accommodated in a refugee camp at the time is her only known home. She has nowhere else to call home.

Like many immigrants she survived by selling fruits and vegetables and that’s how she feeds herself, and her children.

In March 2020 when the President of the Republic of South Africa announced the hard lock down, she survived for few weeks on her savings but the reality hit her hard weeks later.

“I used everything I had; I couldn’t trade or do anything as such the situation was very bad. It’s bad to be a foreigner like me in this country. I don’t know anyone in Mozambique, I don’t have access to identity documents in this country as well”, said Nyanisi.

Nyanisi witnessed as the South African government distributed food parcels to those who qualified, whilst she knew she also qualified as she had nothing, her only problem was lack of identity document.

“I could not get anything, even during the registration of those who are unemployed I didn’t register as I don’t have any documents. I only survived due to neighbours who understood my situation and lend a helping hand,” she said.

The situation with Covid-19 brought a dire situation in Nyanisi family and others like her who have been in South Africa for years but don’t have identity documents. As an undocumented foreigner her choices are limited, her children don’t even receive child grant.

“One has to work very hard and take any job that I get. I couldn’t continue further with schools because it was going to be meaningless. I have seen many children here in the village that are stuck with matric certificates but they cannot go to university due to lack of identity documents.”

The Limpopo Social Development department confirmed that the criteria used for distribution of food required that beneficiaries be South African citizens.

“The Giyani local Municipality tried to intervene with the creation of the food bank during the hard lock down with donations from good samaritans and that didn’t reach everyone”, the spokesperson of Greater Giyani Municipality Steven Mavunda said.

The Home Affairs department says that it’s very difficult to deal with a situation such as that of Nyanisi as she has no documentation from her country of birth.

The Mozambican embassy says that people like Nyanisi could be helped if they visit the embassy. A local activist in Giyani, Danisa Mkhacani says that the Mozambican government has neglected many of their citizens as they are only visible close to election time as they require them to vote.

Danisa says there are many cases of Mozambican migrants who are facing daily struggles due to lack of documentation and the Covid-19 pandemic has taken tall on many of them.