Epiphanie Mukasano has been the project coordinator since March 2018 but our association goes back almost two decades. Her life story Green ID was published in Torn Apart: Thirteen refugees tell their stories in 2003, and Maroon Sky in its sequel Torn Apart: Thirteen refugees retell their stories in 2011. In 2014, Epiphanie co-authored the HRMC’s first literary reader Where I Belong with Bridget Pitt. Epiphanie has participated in HRMC research initiatives since 2012. Highlights of research conducted in this period follows.
HRMC and Rwandan Refugees Living in Cape Town (RRCT) signed a MOU on 17 December 2012 to work on joint initiatives and to open communication with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) regarding Rwandan Cessation Clause, as RRCT’s efforts, on its own, were unsuccessful.
Nine RRCT members participated in a two-hour focus group meeting on 25 October 2012 that focused on two questions: 1) What are your views on the Rwandan Cessation Clause and its consequences? 2) What are your recommendations to the UNHCR and Ministry of Home Affairs? The outcome was the Intervention Report disseminated to UNHCR, DHA, NGO stakeholders and the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Home Affairs.
HRMC conducted a short study tour to Rwanda in January 2013. Shirley and Haroon Gunn-Salie visited a number of memorial sites, interviewed survivors, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) archivist, NGO leaders, and the UNHCR representative Madame Nelmar Warsame. Madame Warsame said there were 1636 Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa, the same number according to DHA’s records. The Rwandan community did not think this number accurate. There has been no update on accurate statistics.
A meeting was secured with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on 13 February 2013 at M46 Marks Building, Parliament. RRCT and HRMC made presentations. Thereafter, they (HRMC and RRCT) were instructed to organize a public meeting with relevant DHA officials, importantly, Chief Director: Asylum Seeker and Refuge Management, Ms Lindile Kgasi. This meeting took place at St Mary’s Church Hall in Retreat on 16 March 2013. The programme included a screening of the BBC documentary: Rwanda’s Untold Story, an UNHCR input but the speaker did not turn up, and Mirilize Ackerman who spoke on Angolan Cessation on behalf of the Scalabrini Centre. Ms Kgasi did not address the questions put to her; she came to report not listen.
On 16 April 2013 six refugees from Rwanda briefed MInister Pandor in Tshwane, two days before the UNHCR meeting with heads of states that host Rwandan refugees (Zambia, Uganda, DRC, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa) on the Implementation of the Comprehensive Durable Solutions Strategy, including the applicability of the ‘ceased circumstances’ cessation clauses for Rwandan refugees who fled their home during pre-1998 unrests. Minister Pandor referred to the interaction she had had with representatives of the Rwandan Refugee community in her opening address, raising matters that were brought to her attention, such as the problem with the pre-1998 date. The outcome of the meeting: South Africa believed cessation was premature, and the Rwandan Cessation Clause date of 30 June 2013 was postponed. Later, the date 31 December 2017 was set but postponed again without further date being set.
Chantal Uwamahoro, a refugee from Rwanda and former finance officer at HRMC, was among the six Rwandans attending the meeting with the Minister in Tshwane. At the meeting, Minister Pandor asked Chantal to coordinate a meeting of Rwandan women at Parliament in Cape Town that would include senior department officials. Carmen, her PA, helped with the logistics.
Chantal organized 65 women under three broad categories, however, the Minister insisted the number be reduced to 25 but 22 women attended the meeting. The meeting took place on 19 June 2013. Minister Pandor was primarily interested in seeing which policies needed to be changed, and the Minister instructed Lindile Kgasi to examine the 25 cases presented to the meeting to establish where the systemic hold-ups occur. Chantal was happy with the outcome; DHA got back to 22 of those ‘cases’ with positive feedback. Furthermore, there was a policy change regarding women and children in the queues outside Refugee Reception Centers. They were to be served first to avoid their sleeping outside and missing days of school.
On 9 August 2013, HRMC conducted a further focus group research meeting with thirteen Rwandan women specifically for the benefit of the Minister who was considering policy changes to alleviate problems faced by women refugees and asylum seekers. The meeting was held at HRMC’s Kenilworth Offices and findings were incorporated in a report handed to the Minister and Deputy Minister DHA, the DHA Parliamentary Standing Committee, UNHCR and NGO stakeholders.
On 22 August 2013, Minister Pandor and Deputy Minister, Fatima Chohan, invited five refugee women through HRMC to a breakfast at the Slave Lodge on 22 August, which doubled up as a forum for questions and answers.
The following year on 17 May 2014, HRMC organized a Rwandan Round Table discussion inviting all relevant stakeholders. Jean-Marie Gasangwa was employed on a short-term contract to coordinate the event at the Townhouse Hotel in Cape Town.
A second Rwandan Round Table was held on 9 April 2016 at the Townhouse Hotel in Cape Town. The forty participants included: the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Legal Resources Centre, South African Human Rights Commission, South African Police Service, Scalabrini Refugee Centre, Cape Town Refugee Centre, UCT Refugee Rights Centre, Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre, UNHCR, DHA, RRCT members, and Rwandan refugee representatives from KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
The morning session included two topics in Topic 1: How far has Rwanda come in achieving lasting peace? Topic II: Peace Dynamics in the Great Lakes Region, and a screening of Rwanda’s Untold Story. BBC (2014). Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng regional reports were presented In the afternoon, with responses from Adv Andre Gaum, Linmei Li from the UNHCR and Charlotte Manicom Scalabrini Refugee Centre: Reflection of Angolan Cessation.
HRMC facilitated further research in 2017. Seven women participated in focus group research at HRMC’s Kenilworth office on 21 May 2017 moderated by Epiphanie and Shirley. On 23 July, Aurore Dushime and Isaac Goldstein moderated the youth focus meeting with nine youth at HRMC’s new offices at Community House. Isaac compiled the youth report. Shirley and Epiphanie compiled the final combined research report, one hundred copies were printed and disseminated to stakeholders.
A case study report was completed and presented to DHA on 4 October 2018. RRCT assisted in identifying cases. Deputy Minister, Fatima Chohan, referred HRMC to Mandla Madumisa – Asylum Seekers Management.
Epiphanie and Shirley met Mr Madumisa at his office in Pretoria on 22 November 2018. He had not read the case report so they outlined its contents in the two-and a-half hour meeting. Afterwards, HRMC drafted a two-page report on the exchange and send it to DM, Mr Madumisa and RLF. It was decided at the Pretoria meeting that a follow up meeting with Mr Madumisa would be organised when he was in Cape Town in early 2019, allowing him further time to read the report and elicit responses. Our efforts to secure this meeting came to naught.
From 16 to 18 November 2018, HRMC facilitated a three-day workshop with RRCT members, Panel of Wise and youth to reflect on how the community can be strengthened and united. Eleven members attended the workshop that was gender balanced and included young and old. The programme introduced role play to put members in the shoes of others (youth, men or women or different ethnic or regional backgrounds) to sensitize members to the dangers of stereotyping. Having opportunity to be removed from every day pressures in a reflective programme assisted to break artificial barriers that cause of division.
[Group photograph at Hermanus or of roleplay]
Held at the Seaside cottages in Fish Hoek, this residential ‘sensitization’ programme was repeated twice in 2019, on 16 to 18 August and on 4 to 6 October, reaching more members of the Rwandan community, and a mix in terms of gender, age, ethnicity and region. Epiphanie was a participant but responsible for recruitment and administration of both workshops; Shirley was the facilitator. The role play was workshopped at both these workshops and revealed both talent and interest in the roleplay’s development into a play to reach audiences over and above the Rwandan community in 2020.
[Group photographs taken at the workshop in Fish Hoek]
HRMC took participants’ recommendation of developing a play to an intergenerational dialogue on 12 December 2019 held in the Ashley Kriel Hall at Community House. Participants from all three residential workshops were invited, and Silvérien Hagenimana, a Rwandan theatre director, where the roleplay was performed again with those present. These initiatives collectively gave birth to a drama group called IJABO that HRMC collaborated with in creating The Thorny Way and Untying the Knot in 2020.
At the World Refugee Day event cohosted by the Refugee Rights Unit at UCT and UNHCR in 2019, Mr Popo Mfubu, lecturer attorney at the Refugee Rights Unit, UCT, announced the campaign to get 18-year-olds born and raised in South Africa with refugee status naturalized. The legitimacy of this campaign was based on the court order in November 2018 in the Ali and others vs Department of Home Affairs matter. The order states that by November 2020, DHA must make regulations in terms of s 23(a) of the South African Citizenship Act 88 of 1995 (the Act) in respect of applications for citizenship by naturalisation in terms of s 4(3) of the Act. The order adds that pending the promulgation of the regulations above, the DHA must accept applications in terms of the said Act on affidavit.
Epiphanie diligently prepared nine cases of youth fitting this profile with disappointing outcomes. The applicants, parents and/or youths, gathered the required documentation, such as letters of attendance from schools, but DHA officials told them that there are no application forms available, and some officials said there is no such law, and sent them away. This requires follow-up.
The Refugee Reception Centers closed their doors at the beginning of Level 5 Lock down on 26 March 2020 and they are not open yet. There is desperation within the refugee and asylum seeker community as their documents have expired.
At the start of lockdown, Epiphanie compiled a report titled Resettlement: An option for protesting refugees and asylum seekers in Cape Town and Pretoria? A Human Rights Based Analysis, dated 8 May 2020, which was circulated by Epiphanie to …
On 12 June 2019, Epiphanie and Shirley met Nigel Holmes, chairperson of the Refugee Appeals Authority (RAA) at HRMC’s office, referred to us by Mandla Madumisa, Chief Director Asylum Seeker Management.
Mr Holmes explained that RAAs biggest challenge was resolving the backlog; he could not provide exact numbers. A cause of the backlog, he said, is that a quorum is needed, 50% plus one, to hear cases, and the Quorum Law needed to be changed and this process was underway awaiting the President’s authorization and signature. Appeal hearings, although like tribunals, are not recorded, so communication and tracing refugees, a highly mobile community, is challenging. A further problem, he said, is that they are short staffed with only three officials to handle the workload. As a result, data capturing is not up to speed. These problems are due to the government not making sufficient funds available to RAA, so they have approached UNHCR for assistance. Mr Holmes said they had appointed a consultant on a six-month contract ending in November 2019 to investigate the full extend on the backlog problem. The findings, he said, were to be submitted to the Minister three months later, at end February 2020. This requires follow up.
On the 14 August 2019 we met Karl Sloth-Nelson and Mohammed Hassim of SCRA at our offices. Their difficulties at SCRA were similar to that which Mr Holmes reported; SCRA has a huge workload and is understaffed. Mr Hassim’s 5-year contract was coming an end in October 2019, and Mr Sloth-Nelson said he was resigning in October. The ever changing of the guard poses a problem for civil society as organizations have to continually build relationship with newly appointed officials and ministers. For example, from 2013 to the present (February 2021) there have been five Ministerial changes.
On 2 December 2019, HRMC signed a MOU with FHR to provide support to FHR / UNHCR focus group research in Cape Town involving girls, boys, women and men. HRMC received the draft research report a year later in November 2020 that is not yet publicly available.
HRMC (Epiphanie and Shirley) continues to meet the RRCT leadership that has been an important space to discuss current issues, research topics and joint programmes and activities.