COVID-19: Vaccinating stateless people in South Africa.

Clad in a torn and tattered orange overall, 25-year-old Brandon Ndlovu cuts a lone figure at Benoni, in Johannesburg, one of South Africa's busiest shopping centres. He does not feel part of the shoppers on the streets because he has not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mr. Ndlovu is considered 'stateless' and hence is often left out of government plans and services. In this case, lack of identification has seen him, and his family miss out on COVID-19 vaccination.

Mr. Ndlovu was born in 1996 in an independent South Africa to both South African parents, also born of South African parents, while in exile in Mozambique during the fight against the apartheid.

On their return to South Africa, none of the family members could get identification papers. Mr. Ndlovu has no kind words for the authorities over the way they handled the identification issue, and now the vaccination drive.

What is statelessness?

The international legal definition of a stateless person is 'a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law', according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency tasked with protecting the rights of refugees, displaced people and those that are stateless. In simple terms, a stateless person does not have the nationality of any country.

Stateless people can be found in all regions of the world, and while some are born stateless, others become stateless. UNHCR estimates that there were about 4.2 million stateless people globally in 2019. There were about 10,000 stateless people in South Africa by 2016 and the numbers have since gone up.

Being stateless can have a severe, lifelong impact on the affected, including lack of access to education, health care, marriage, and job opportunities, and even the dignity of an official burial and a death certificate when they die. Besides, many pass on their statelessness to their children, who then pass it on to the next generation.

Being undocumented is not the same as being stateless. However, lack of birth registration can put people at risk of statelessness as a birth certificate provides proof of where a person was born and parentage - key information needed to establish a nationality

According to the Institute for Security Studies, in 2019, four of the nine African countries with the biggest stateless populations are Zimbabwe, South Africa, Madagascar, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mr. Ndlovu is however optimistic: 'On numerous occasions, I have tried to get...

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