Born and raised in the Mother City, Zoleka* has never thought that she would one day have to prove her South African citizenship, or face being restricted from writing her matric exams.

Zoleka’s parents are both South African, but problems began when her mother didn’t register her birth and receive a birth certificate for her soon after she was born. As a result, Zoleka was never registered as a citizen; now 18 years later she still remains unknown and her future is getting darker. To begin with she needs to have an ID number in order to register to write her matric exams.

Last year she started her journey of fixing her documentation problems. “I went to home affairs and they said I must do a DNA test with my mother to prove that I am her daughter and I am South African. That sounds simple enough but I don’t have R1500 to pay for that test. Another alternative was that we go back to the hospital where I was born so they can help trace my birth and maybe there can be a document there proving my birth.”

Zoleka also fell pregnant last year. Now, at close to a year old, her daughter also still doesn’t have a certificate and will remain undocumented until Zoleka is. This makes Zoleka emotional as she feels she has somehow lost hope: “I have lost hope; honestly I don’t think I will be able to write my matric this year but I did go to the ward councillor who has promised to walk me through the process and even ask the government or department of education to help with the DNA test.”

Zoleka and her mother went back to the hospital where she was born. They got a document that says Zoleka was born there to her mother. Unfortunately, Zoleka says that home affairs claimed they can’t help without the DNA test. This also means that for now she still doesn’t know if she will be able to finish her matric year.

Some schools do allow undocumented learners to write with only their date of birth, depending on the rules of that school. But it is unclear whether Zoleka’s school will allow her to write while she sorts out her documentation.

For now, Zoleka’s story is unfinished and her future is still uncertain. Unfortunately, her reality doesn’t have a happy ending yet, and we can only hope that by the time exams start she has made some progress.

We will update her journey as her story develops, in hopes of helping others in similar situations.

*The name has been changed to protect the identity of the interviewee.


If you enjoyed reading this, you may like to read about finding funding for university here.

Tell us: Have you or someone you know experienced similar problems with documentation? Was it ever sorted?