BOSASA’s Dom Pass Syndicate
Tonight I went to see Woza Albert, a protest play by Mbongeni Ngema, Percy Mtwa and Barney Simon about the lives of black men during apartheid in South Africa. A recurring theme seemed to be the dehumanization of black people because of the law that required them to carry a small ID book called the Dom Pass. You see, without the Dom Pass; black people couldn’t move around freely in the cities of South Africa, especially in Johannesburg.
They had to queue on Albert Street in the Joburg CBD where they weren’t sure whether or not they would be given 14 days or 6 months to work. From there, even as they were armed with the Dom Pass they had no real guarantee of work; and when they did find work they worked under terrible conditions where they were vulnerable to getting fired and having their Dom Passes revoked. They would then be arrested and sent back to their dependents in their homelands; where black people were restricted to. Sound familiar?
If you’re a Zimbabwean who either grew up in Johannesburg or had family that grew up in Johannesburg then you know this scenario all too well. This is because you’ve either been arrested yourself or had a family member arrested because they were found on the streets of Johannesburg not carrying the Dom Pass. Do you know the life of insecurity that asylum seekers face? Never knowing if your journey to renew your asylum permit will earn you a few more months as a legal immigrant or result in your immediate deportation. If you’re in this situation, do you continue striving towards honesty or do you eventually resign yourself to living in the country illegally?
You see, if you are privileged enough to have lived on the right side of Johannesburg as a foreigner then you probably don’t know that in certain areas of the city as a foreigner you cannot move around without your dom pass. The modern-day Dom Pass for foreigners would be either a passport, ID or an asylum permit confirming that you are in the country legally. Failure to carry these around, regardless of how impractical and dangerous this is in a high crime rate city; WILL land you in the infamous Lindela Correctional Prison.
The South African Police Services moves around the certain parts of the city notorious for being inhabited by foreigners, preying on those unfortunate enough to be found not carrying their Dom Pass. They are arrested regardless of whether or not they are actually in the country legally. From there, they are either arrested or extorted for money. Can you imagine having to carry your permit with you just to buy a loaf of bread two streets away because you could find yourself being shipped back home, resulting in you in losing your job or not being able to attend school? Or possibly never seeing your family again.
So, how on earth would you be able to tell who is a foreigner and who’s not, after all, we’re all black, aren’t we? Well; it’s a mixture of colorism and classism reinforced by xenophobic stereotypes about what foreign nationals look like. As a result, some South Africans fall victim to this too and end up toiling away in Lindela.
In the past few months, the BOSASA bosses have been in the news because they have appeared on the Zondo Commission testifying about the alleged illicit dealings of their company. It is alleged that they made a business out of harassing, arresting, extorting and deporting foreign nationals regardless of whether or not they had the required documentation to live and work in South Africa. They allegedly got paid per head for each person that ended up in Lindela; in order to fund their bonuses and holiday getaways. They target poor, dark-skinned black people who nobody would care about because they were deemed undesirables in South Africa.
As I was saying; tonight I went to see the infamous Woza Albert by Mbongeni Ngema and Percy Mtwa. Right in the middle of the play, Mbongeni Ngema screams that “I AM NOT JUST A PIECE OF PAPER, I AM A HUMAN BEING, and I AM A MAN!” Then the irony struck me because as much as this was a protest play on apartheid injustices, this could be applied so easily to South Africa’s policies on black foreign nationals. It seems like the government simply but unofficially adopted the Dom Pass system after 1994 and applied it to ‘illegal immigrants’.
You may ask how a human being can be illegal, how exactly does that work? You may protest that the South African constitution does not just protect South Africans; it protects everyone living within these borders regardless of their immigration status. It affords everyone the right to equality; so how did foreign nationals end up occupying the place of the third class citizen in a country that claims to have reformed from Apartheid?
Well, the answer is BOSASA; South Africa’s immigration policies are inherently xenophobic, perhaps another legacy of apartheid that hasn’t been tackled. So what happens when a country’s immigration policies are inherently xenophobic and reactionary? A Dom Pass syndicate thrives, displacing families, ruining lives and robbing people of their livelihoods, regardless of their immigration status.
Just like during apartheid, poor foreign nationals living in high-density areas need to carry their Dom Pass everywhere they go. Otherwise, they risk being arrested and sent back to their homelands; so that Agrizzi and company can cash in fat bonuses and travel the world.