Frederik Ngubane, 22, returned to South Africa, the country of his birth, in 2009, after spending his entire childhood in Kenya and Uganda. An orphan, Ngubane had lost all contact with his South African relatives, and soon after arriving in the country he also lost his birth certificate, the only document proving his South African nationality. He has spent four years living as a stateless person, and is now losing hope that his situation will ever change.
“My mother was South African and so was my father, but he died in 1993, and then my mother [and I] moved to Kenya. I grew up there until my mother died in 2002, and then I moved to Uganda with my aunt.
“When my aunt died, I came back to South Africa to try to connect with relatives. I wasn’t in contact with them, but I knew where they lived; I thought it would be easy.
“I didn’t have a passport, only a [South African] birth certificate. It took four months to get here from Uganda. Unfortunately, everything got lost when I was taken hostage in Tonga, about 40km from the [Mozambican] border. They kept me overnight; they wanted a phone number of a relative they could call to ask for money, but I ran away.
“I went to Newcastle [in KwaZulu-Natal Province] to find my father’s family - that’s when I got arrested. I went to the police station to ask for help, and I met a cop with the same last name. He took me to his home and then to [the Department of] Home Affairs. They interviewed me and then they kept me at the police station for three weeks before transferring me to Lindela [Repatriation Centre].
“They tried to deport me. They called the Ugandan embassy, but they said no. Then they tried Kenya, but they also said no. So after three months, they released me.
“After I was released, I went to Home Affairs in Johannesburg, but they just chased me away. I also tried applying for asylum but they said no because I was born in South Africa.
“I can’t even count how many times I’ve been to Home Affairs. One guy from there told me last week that someone with money could get nationality. Even in Newcastle, they said if I had money, I could be helped. If you don’t have money, you suffer.
“I’ve been arrested several times. It can happen when you’re just walking in the CBD [Central Business District]. But when they call Home Affairs, they say my case is being handled and they release me.
“I’ve moved around a lot; I’m not settled. Now I’m staying in a shelter in Pretoria. Occasionally I get piece work, but for most jobs, they want an ID.
“I started coming to Lawyers for Human Rights in 2010. They’ve helped me apply for an exemption to get permanent residency, but I don’t see any progress.
“It’s too hard. It’s like my future is on hold and I can’t move forward. I’m absolutely hopeless.
“There are people who’ve lived all their lives in South Africa and don’t have documents, so I don’t think my chances are good. I would go to any country that would help me.”