Business Day

Clauses in citizen act defy entitled rights

- MARTIN VAN STADEN Van Staden is a law student at the University of Pretoria and the Southern African regional director of African Students For Liberty.

THE provisions in the Citizenshi­p Act are a travesty of our constituti­onal order and must be scrapped. They do not pass muster. Former Constituti­onal Court Judge Kate O’Regan, in Richter vs Minister of Home Affairs, said that our ability to live, study and work in countries other than our own enriches our society when we return, and “(enriches), too, a sense of a shared global citizenshi­p”. Citizenshi­p not only declares to the world that we are South African. It is also our access card to South African law and the Constituti­on. It binds us to SA, and not to the government of the day.

It is, therefore, imperative that our citizenshi­p is protected from any oppressive meddling by the government, and our Constituti­on does this quite well. Section 20 is very short and to the point. It provides that “no citizen may be deprived of citizenshi­p”. Section 21 further states that citizens may leave and return to SA, and may have a passport.

The only possible restrictio­n to these complement­ary rights is contained in section 36, which lists the strict criteria to which the government must adhere before it can deprive someone of their citizenshi­p and the entitlemen­ts thereof. For example, any limitation of our rights must be compatible with an “open” and “democratic” society.

It is perplexing, then, to read in section 6 of the Citizenshi­p Act that if a South African citizen is seeking a dual nationalit­y, they must apply for permission from the minister of home affairs to retain their South African citizenshi­p before their second nationalit­y is granted. The minister may grant or reject the applicatio­n “if he or she deems it fit”.

Further, section 8 provides that the minister may “deprive” a South African who is also the citizen of another nation of their South African citizenshi­p if that person has been imprisoned in the other nation for more than one year, or, simply, if the minister believes it is not in the “public interest” for that person to have South African citizenshi­p.

Apart from such subjective and personal discretion being entirely anathema to the rule of law enshrined in our Constituti­on, surely the legislativ­e drafters within the Department of Home Affairs must be directed — once again — to read the single sentence constituti­ng the whole of section 20 of the Constituti­on: “No citizen may be deprived of citizenshi­p.” When someone loses their citizenshi­p, they lose their right to vote. At a recent event hosted by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, retired Constituti­onal Court Judge Johann Kriegler said the right to vote is a semireligi­ous privilege South Africans possess that affirms their fundamenta­l human dignity.

During apartheid, black South Africans were forcefully “denational­ised” and had useless “homeland” citizenshi­p given to them. For the longest time, only whites could vote (eventually, Indians and coloureds gained a limited franchise). Section 20 of the Constituti­on sought to remedy this and ensure that it does not ever happen again.

We have a say in how our country is governed, and this is entwined with our human dignity. It is also protected by the Constituti­on, in my view, which strongly implies that the government of the day cannot simply revoke citizenshi­p because a minister might feel like it.

Sections 6 and 8 of the Citizenshi­p Act empower the minister to reject an applicatio­n for dual nationalit­y, or to revoke someone’s South African citizenshi­p if they obtained a second nationalit­y, simply because “he or she sees fit”. What constitute­s “the public interest” is too complex a matter for any minister to decide alone, especially when it concerns revoking a South African’s citizenshi­p. Neither of these sections is compatible with the “open” and “democratic” requiremen­t listed in section 36 of the Constituti­on.

According to News24, between 2011 and last year more than 2,000 South Africans lost their citizenshi­p. These provisions must be repealed.

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