Tensions rise as the Wits Law Clinic defends victims stripped of their dignity

The Wits Law Clinic is preparing to file a lawsuit in August against the Home Affairs Department for neglecting the crisis of stolen identities in South Africa.

Professor Philippa Kruger joined forces with Advocate Erin Richards at the law clinic to investigate whether the department had a policy to deal with stolen or replicated identities.

“At the law clinic we act for the poor; we represent them. We have different units and take matters to court for people who qualify. Most of these women are poor and disempowered. My project is to try and get their statuses reversed,”  Kruger said.

The story became public knowledge and created pressure for Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi, who made an appearance on June 11 at the law clinic to apologise to victims.

Since his appearance at the law clinic, the minister has resolved only one case out of the six. The law clinic will resort to taking matters to court, as the department has not communicated or is not taking any action to rectify this.

One of the women represented by the Wits Law Clinic is Nomathamsanqa Swartbooi, whose identity document was duplicated 15 years ago.

Swartbooi said, “I face numerous debts that were made on my name, leading to my name being blacklisted. It was next to impossible to find work. I have always worked for the bank, but it has become a dream to open a bank account or get credit.”

Final-year LLB student Patrick Kadima, who works at the clinic, told Wits Vuvuzela, “What needs to be done at national level is that the department should arrest officials who are partaking in this criminal act… Home Affairs should [also] not be strict towards the victims and make it a difficult process for the victims to reclaim their identities.”

Kruger said, “Many of these cases are made possible because of corruption in the Home Affairs Department.”

Ellis O’Brien, a single mother from Reiger Park, Boksburg, has been registered as married for the past 12 years to a man she does not know.

“My life has been on hold for years. I feel like I do not exist because I do not have ownership of my name,” she told Wits Vuvuzela. “I have been patient, but my life is on standstill and it is killing me inside.”

She went on to say how sickly she has become from the stress of the situation.

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits Law Clinic at the University of Witwatersrand, West campus. Photo: Jabulile Mbatha