For lack of birth registration, the San community lost many opportunities in life

Gibson Mhaka

THE tone of a conversation in which an individual states, “I’m not where I want to be” is telling.

If the statement is made with a measure of nonchalance, it denotes that the individual is relatively confident of his or her ability to “get there,” and perceives challenges as a normal part of required effort.

If the statement is said in frustration, it denotes a resentment towards barriers of concern that have lit a fire of determination to succeed.

When the statement is articulated in a tone of utter defeat, however, the listener senses that not only has all hope for achieving success been lost, but that the individual has internalised a sense of fate for not living up to expectations he or she has of her or himself.

Unfortunately, such is the tone that was expressed by Professor Moyo (39) from Mtshina Village under Chief Goledema in Ward 10 of Tsholotsho North, Matabeleland North province who feels the lack of birth registration caused him to lose many opportunities in an attempt to build his life.

“I wanted to be a prison guard but I lost that opportunity because I didn’t have a birth certificate. I dropped out of school when I reached Grade 7 as I was required to have a birth certificate to register for examinations.

Professor Moyo

“I was also struggling every day to find a job to guarantee my self-support, but always failed because of lack of documentation.

“The only form of identity I had before I was issued with a birth certificate and identification card was a baptism certificate. It felt bad and it feels really bad, even now.

“Here in the Mtshina area the issuance of a birth certificate and identification card was a huge achievement,” Professor told journalists during a recent media tour in the area which was organised by United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) to see how the issuance of birth certificates and identification cards has improved the lives of the San community.

“I wish I could at least write or read some of the messages sent on my phone,” lamented Professor.

Professor is a living example of those members of the San community who pass through the same hardship and know very well the difficulties faced when living without birth registration.

Most parents said getting a birth certificate was a near impossible feat that took years and cost too much in terms of money and productive time.

Thanks to the collaboration between the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and Unicef with funding from the Government of Sweden.

UNICEF

The partnership facilitated the acquisition of national documents in 2021 and making sure that all members of the San community get birth certificates and identification cards.

Before that it was indeed a story of impossibility, invisibility in the earlier years and missed opportunities for the San Community.

According to statistics obtained from the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare in 2022 in eight Wards out of the 22 in Tsholotsho North there were 3 542 initial registration of children under the age of 16 years, 600 initial registration for persons above 16 years, 46 duplicate birth certificates were issued to children under 16 years of age and 625 duplicate birth certificates and 58 birth certificates were also issued to persons above the age of 16 years.

Director of Social Development, in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Tawanda Zimhunga, said Government through the department of human social development and support from Unicef managed to avail an emergency fund to cater for vulnerable persons and to ensure that they reach the registration centres to register the birth of their children.

“The government instituted mobile registration exercises in Tsholotsho District and the department of social development allowed social workers to be part of the registration system particularly to assist vulnerable persons.

“The social workers with the support of the community health care workers identified vulnerable persons and where necessary assist ed them with transport to access mobile registration centres near their localities,” said Zimhunga.

In separate interviews villagers hailed the move as an important step towards ending statelessness for the San community.

Headman Mtshina, born Madlela Maphosa, said before the issuance of the birth certificates and identification cards accessing them was a big challenge for the San community.

Madlela Maphosa

“Many people here were losing out on Government programmes because of lack of national documents. We thank the Government for the move because the lack of birth registration was affecting children and adults alike and especially the young people were affected most.

“We are, however, appealing for another mobile registration exercise so that those who missed during the initial process can also be issued with the documents,” said Maphosa.

He said without a birth certificate, accessing education was also a struggle for about 150 children from the San Community attending Mtshina Primary School.

According to Unicef, children without birth certificates face uncertain futures. They can be cut off from routine vaccinations and other health care.

They may be prevented from receiving social assistance, inheriting property, attending school or registering for exams.

As a result, their future job prospects become extremely limited, rendering them more likely to live in poverty.

Shylet Magwayana (41) said the obtaining of the birth certificates and identification cards was not only their triumph, but it was a triumph for development of the previously marginalised San community.

“We didn’t have birth certificates, and obtaining national identification cards was also a challenge.

“My five children were also deprived of an education because they didn’t have the necessary documents. I am happy that with the issuance of the birth certificates my children no longer miss seating for examinations and attending sports competitions,” said Magwayana.

She said even though she managed to get her two older children into school using their immunisation cards they however, dropped out when they reached Grade 7 because they have no other form of identification.

Sibongile Mpofu (54) was optimistic that the issuance of birth certificates and identification cards signals a new beginning for the entire San community.

“With birth certificates, my children will no longer be sent home from school and they will have a bright future. Our children were undocumented for many reasons.

“This is because as parents and guardians, we were struggling to secure birth certificates to support the application for national identification cards.” she said.

Studies have shown that in poor or marginalised communities lack of birth registration can also reinforce existing gender gaps in areas like education. Worldwide, 132 million girls are out of school, and these girls are more likely than out-of-school boys to never enroll in school. Not having a birth certificate makes it even more difficult for them to do so.

According to Unicef, with regards to addressing low birth registration, its advocacy and financial support contributed to birth registration in emergency affected districts and marginalised communities such as the San community in Tsholotsho North.

“In response to the birth registration backlog, in 2021, Unicef increased access to mobile Birth Registration in drought affected districts. Unicef working with the Registrar’s Office and Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, reached a total of 6 645 children with birth registration assistance in Bikita and Tsholotsho (target 1 500).

“Apart from this, Unicef is working with the RG’s Office, providing technical and funding support for a national Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) assessment. Unicef supported reactivation of the CRVS Inter-Ministerial Committee creating a high-level platform to support CRVS.

“The key lesson learnt from this, a consistent working relationship with RG’s office is critical for the facilitation of access to birth registration services for children.

“Unicef has enhanced its partnership and collaboration with the RG’s Office through regular contact at technical levels, and occasionally and strategically at senior management levels”.

Tsoro-o-otso San Development Trust director Davy Ndlovu who has been advocating for the rights of the San community ensuring that they have access to national documents is also on record saying they were happy that since the coming of the Second Republic many projects were being implemented to improve their livelihoods.

 

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