Every few years, my family and I would make a trip down to Port Elizabeth Refugee Office.
From what I can remember, the visits were always dreadful, tedious, dehumanising, and if we were lucky, expensive.
“File number ECZBDIOOO50109”, the receptionist would call out loud in a room full of refugees, from Burundi, Congo, China and even Ethiopia. My mother always told us to count ourselves lucky, when we would spot a family with all their luggage, taking turns to sleep because they have been there since the beginning of the week, and cant afford to miss their turn.
There were times when my mother tried to turn the trips into somewhat of a holiday, but that was only when money permitted, otherwise we had to wake up just before dawn, in order to arrive early enough for us to be able to return later that very same day.
“Yes mama, yizani ngapha, bring your family this side”, was what one immigration officer said after being handed our file. My mother, my sister and I, would then be directed into an office where we would each be interviewed using a long list of generic questions. Once the interviews were done, a photograph would be taken, and your thumbprint would be used to authorise the entire process.
I have never witnessed any of the offices asking for a bribe, but I was asked for one four years ago, when I went to renew my Refugee Status at the very same offices. Of course I chose to play dumb, and instead offered the officer my Steri Stumpie, to which he accepted with gratitude.
I have not only been living in this country my entire life, I have been living in South Africa as a REFUGEE, where the law of this land clearly states that once an immigrant/refugee has been living in RSA for more that five years, he/she is then eligible to apply for permanent residence.
But here I am, still known as file number ECZBDIOOO50109.