Witness Khumalo - Born 13 March 1936 in Alexander, Johannesburg.
Until about June 2005 an Identity Document carrying citizen of the Republic of South Africa. And, until then a recipient of a monthly State old age Grant. Since then, a non-persona!
I met Witness in December of 2004, when, after moving into our new home I got him to come in to do gardening for me. He is a casual laborer, like many others, who stand on street corners on weekend mornings, looking for some "piece work" as he's great. Always friendly, works hard.
One day, in passing I asked him how old he is, and was surprised to hear he was 69! I then enquired if he was receiving the State Old age Grant. He said no, each time he had been to the Home affairs offices / Welfare offices, he was told he was too young, "Come back next year!"
I downloaded the information from the web the next week, and that Saturday armed him with all the information he needed, and wrote my details down for him. I told him to get down there, and apply again, and if anyone refused him, he was to ask them to contact me. This was early in 2005.
Needless to say, now that he had the knowledge / information, it was a breeze, and he was loaded into the system as a qualified as a recipient, and within a few weeks he was receiving the grant monthly. The man blossomed. He was eating better, dressed better, and had so much dignity. His government was looking after him. He was proud!
In June / July 2005, the person who was sharing his room with him decided to go to Rustenburg / Britz, packed a bag, and left. However, Witness had hidden his ID book, and his Old Age Grant number underneath the lining of the bag which the second person had left with. This person was due to come back in a few weeks, so he didn't really worry. After 2 months though, he was worried. I lent him money to go to Rustenburg to look for his room mate. After 2 weeks he was back. Alone. I then sent him off to Britz. Nothing. By late September 2006 I convinced him to reapply for a new ID book, after which he could get his Grant Number reinstated, and he could get his back pay, and get on with his life.
Then the "usual" runaround started with the Home Affairs. Come back in 2 weeks. Come back in 3 weeks. Go and see if it's at the Roodepoort Branch. (He walked there, from Pinehaven in Krugersdorp, and back! Probably a 20km round trip, if not more!!). Come back in two weeks... The man was getting desperate.
So, I got onto the internet, found a name of someone at Home Affairs and sent of an email requesting assistance in this regard. I got a response within 2 days, saying that the problem had been forwarded to Mr. J. Chavalala at the Internal Affairs offices, Pretoria. He called me within another 2 days. I explained the situation, and we agreed that I would take a day off work, and take Witness through to the Pretoria offices to see if they could help. On arriving there, with Witness dressed in his Sunday best, we were referred to Mr. Benjamin Khosa. He first asked all the relevant questions, then checked on the computer to see where Witness's application was. It was not on the system. So, he filled in a new application, he took the photos, and then started to search their computer systems for Winess's ID Number and / or other details. He does not exist!!!
We spent the whole day there, with Mr. Khoza trying every search variation possible, to no avail. Finally he took a full set of fingerprints, and had these taken to the main offices in Pretoria, for them to see if they can match these to his original details. We left, with him saying he would be in touch.
Back in Krugersdorp, a few days later, I went to the Welfare offices. They have no record of him. I went to the company responsible for the Old Age Grant payout. They have no way of verifying who he is, without his ID number. I have my own views about this, but that's for another day. So, for all intents and purposes, this man, who works in my garden most Saturday's does not exist!!
Mr. Khosa did get back to me to say that the fingerprints did not turn up anything. So I asked him what the next steps were, and he said he would get back to me. He never has. I sent a reminder email to him and Mr. Chavalala, but neither ever responded.
Some weeks ago, about the middle of July / August 2006, I received an email from some other person in Home Affairs, saying I must tell Witness to go to his local Home Affairs office to reapply? I sent him off to enquire, and someone looked at the computer, and said, "Come back in 2 weeks!"
My final option is possibly to approach the Constitutional Courts. As far as I am concerned this man is being robbed of his identity, his dignity and his pride. He was unable to vote in the last elections, because the very people he put into power with his last vote, have let him down. They are not rendering to him the service he deserves as a citizen of this country.
My biggest fear is that he should die thinking that no one actually cared!
Via the medium of this publication, and others like it, I wish to extend a plea to Home Affairs to make a point of getting Witness Khumalo the level of support he requires. Get his ID book reissued, even if it means giving him a new ID number. Let him reapply for State Old Age Grant. I know it probably cannot be back dated, but he should not continue to be punished because he may be illiterate, or does not have the right connections, or, because he trusts / believes those Civil Servants behind the desk when they say "It's on the computer, come back in 2 weeks!" You owe this man his dignity!