Thursday, June 29, 2006

The pass system is back.

Last week a colleague of mine was detained by police for 8 hours until his wife could arrive to free him.
His offence: being born North of the Limpopo and being unable to prove on the spot that he was in South Africa legitimately. While he was treated in a civil manner he has now vowed never to leave home without his ID document.
I ask, how different is this from the pass system of old?  


Third World Ant said...

Xenophobia rears its ugly head... a colleague of mine from Zimbabwe has harrowing tales to relate, pretty much every time he tries to cross the border back into South Africa. Far better educated than the border guards, making a real contribution to the SA economy, being an honest, upstanding citizen, paying taxes to help unemployed South Africans, yet still treated with utter contempt by South Africans.

Smacks of the old South Africa, indeed.

Anne-Marie said...

My mother and her husband live in Limpopo, while we are all in Canada. I am assuming by your post that this is the most northernly point in SA. (I've never gone to visit)

I am trying to understand what happened here: did he have no ID at all or did he have ID that placed him as a foreign national without proof of a work permit, etc...?

While I abhor the idea of the old pass system, I wouldn't automatically jump to conclusions if the situation is the second part of the question I asked above. Then again, I do not live in SA and don't quite understand the nuances of what you are writing about. Could you enlighten those of us reading from far away?


ATW said...

He is Zambian (way north of the Limpopo river border) but does legitimately have a South African ID and right to be here. He, like most of us and since there is no legal requirement to do so, was not in the habit of carrying his ID on his person. Because he appears to be foreign to the police he is detained and presumed guilty of being here illegally until he can prove otherwise. He is singled out and not trusted because he is foreign looking.This is the xenophobia that Ant refers to.

I understand why this happens because many foreigners are here illegally and I would imagine that many of those detained may be as guilty as they are presumed to be. It is the generalisation that is problematic.

I don't know a real alternative though to enforcing the law neyond every one of us being forced to carry our ID, perhaps indicating that there is something immoral or unethical about enforcing national boundaries at all.

Anne-Marie said...

Thanks for adding those details for me to understand better. I come from such a diverse city that the very idea of "looking foreign" is foreign to me. I'm not sure what the solution is for a country that fears and influx of illegal migrants, though I agree that the very concept of generalising based on appearance is xenophobic and problematic.

My parents did try to move to SA in the mid-70s when my father's company opened a plant there, but our family was refused based on the old regime's laws. It seemed that my mother, being a native of Mauritius, was automatically considered "coloured" and therefore would be forced, along with her kids, to live in a different township than my German father. He instantly turned down the company request and we stayed put. This was a few years before the sanctions started and the aparheid regime was globally targeted. It seemed very unreal at the time, given what Toronto society was and still is like. I would think your friend found the same absurdity in the police's behaviour.


VallyP said...

Unfortunately, we are experiencing similar paranoia by the authorities here in Europe. A friend of mine, who is Dutch but married an Englishman since she got her last passport, was asked to prove that she was still Dutch when she went to renew her passport! Speechless we were.

In Holland, we are also now required to carry ID with us at all times or risk a hefty fine, and in England, that bastion of individual rights to privacy, the fact that they are even talking about bringing in ID cards is a shock. Apparently this is all in the interests of protecting us against terrorism. I'll leave you to ponder that one!!