Abandoned as a child, Mpho Modise is desperate for citizenship

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Mpho Modise is unsure of her age and does not have birth registration documents to confirm it. She is stateless, meaning she does not have a nationality and with that – no identity papers. Her greatest fear is that the burdens of statelessness will be passed on to her four children, unless she can obtain South African citizenship.

It is as if I have died whilst I’m still alive. I cannot sleep at night. I am always thinking about my life. I wonder where I will end up with my status, she said.

Modise was abandoned between the ages of five and seven in Brits, a small town in South Africa’s North West Province in 1994. She was left with nothing and spent most of her life moving from one well-wisher’s home to the next until her welcome would run out.

Throughout childhood, Mpho watched enviously as other children went to school. She stayed home with the chores, cleaning, making up the beds, doing laundry and cooking. She has never learnt to read or write.

Without any legal papers to prove her identity – like a birth certificate, Mpho cannot exercise the rights registration at birth guarantees. As such, she cannot apply for an identity document or be confirmed a South African citizen.

I used to ask myself why I do not have papers like other children, however, I have never been able to get an answer because I don’t know my parents. I do not know a single member of my family who can tell me about my life and who I am, she indicated.

Stateless people have difficulty accessing basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. Without these things, they can face a lifetime of obstacles and disappointment.

For Mpho, her only recourse is to apply for late registration of birth. But with no known relatives to support her application for late birth registration and without records of school enrolment, the authorities are not convinced she is South African.

With help from her church and legal organisations working with UNHCR, Mpho’s case has been presented many times to the authorities, but her fight for nationality continues.

“Families would stay with Mpho and let Mpho go to somebody just like that until Mpho came to our home. Then, I felt when we spoke with Mpho none of those families endeavored to help Mpho in terms of documents for her own life and for her kid’s lives. I said then, it means that I must go all out to help this young lady so that she becomes a citizen of a particular country,” said Reverend Peter Moatshe in Brits.

Her greatest fear is that her four children will face the same struggles of being stateless. As a single mother and only present parent, she is their only hope.

“My wish is to see myself in my own home with my children. Seeing my children grow and going to school. I would like to see them telling me that they have completed their studies,” Modise explained.

Globally there are more than 10 million people without nationality and millions more at risk of being stateless.