the muiz

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

burning the book

ID books - Fascist relics of the apartheid era: ever stopped to wonder why we still tolerate them?

Without a “green bar-coded ID book” in South Africa today, you can’t open a bank account, have a “cell” phone account, or any other sort of account, you can’t sign a rental agreement or buy a car, you can’t even register to VOTE (as I recently discovered)!! This infuriates me, makes me feel like a dodgy illegal immigrant in the country of my birth, and has often resulted in me saying “I just can’t wait to move back to Australia”.

Now hang on a minute, you might say- isn’t it essential to avoid voter fraud by identifying people when they register to vote – ensuring they are actually South African citizens? Well, I would answer that a passport should be good enough – and South African passports still have the fascist tracking (ID) number in it anyway, along with a photo – it’s valid for official identification all around the world. I should not have been disqualified from voting, as a born and bred South African, simply because I do not have an ID book.

In fact, living in Australia and the UK for many years, this was my only form of identification. I opened bank accounts and carried on as a productive, responsible resident of these countries without any need for a meta-tracking number of this sort.  On my return to South Africa two years ago, I did not apply for an ID book – I didn’t think it necessary as I had lived so happily without one for ten years, and anyway I wasn’t sure how long I might want to stay – finding jobs and making friends after a long absence is not easy, especially in ‘cliquey’ Cape Town.

As it turns out, here I still am, and every time I want to update my address with the bank, or request the services of DSTV, or most importantly, register to VOTE, I am confronted with this annoying, droned mantra: “we need your green bar-coded ID before we can do that”. I explain and show my passport, but it seems that there is simply nowhere in their brainwashed heads to fit this, an equivalent option…

So the other day, the bank would again not accept my passport as sufficient proof of my existence - to gain a second card on an account already held with them, and my account with them was opened using my passport! But this time, I was informed I could obtain an ‘affidavit’ at the police station, explaining why I only have a passport as ID. After storming out of the bank in a huff, I decided perhaps I should at least try this. At the police station, I was given a blank piece of paper and told I could write whatever I want. When I was finished, they signed and stamped it into an ‘officially approved’ document, without even reading it. They didn’t look at my passport either, although I offered it!

I walked out in a daze…who knew it was this easy to have anything you like ‘approved’ or ‘verified’ on a bit of paper? And should I see this as a wonderful convenience, or “a bit of a worry” (as Aussies might say)? I am clearly an incurably logical person, and this must be beaten out of me if I am to continue living in Africa: or how can this possibly make more sense and be more acceptable as proof of ID than my passport – which was referred to scornfully as a “temporary document” by the bank supervisor?

Now, you might be thinking I could have avoided this constant hassle, given in some time ago, and marched off to stand in the long queues at home affairs, or whatever it might be called these days…but I am a stubborn wench. Deeper than all this protest about common sense and logic, or efficiency and convenience, lies a very good reason for my continuing refusal to get an ID book. I have a deep-seated disdain for this whole ID document business, and passionately believe it is an offense to our human dignity, and flies in the face of our hard-fought-for human rights and freedoms.

The public holiday we are about to celebrate is “Youth Day” – I mean, people died to stand up for freedom in this country! How could everyone have already forgotten about the burning of the pass books in many of these protests - as symbols and tools of oppression and discrimination in this country?

Yet whenever I try to explain this to people, they seem to think it is a joke, or ill-informed hyperbole – actually, most people have no idea what I am referring to at all. Of course today’s system is not at all like the system South Africa used at the time – to differentiate between races in order to dictate where they lived, worked and traveled…or is it? Our ID numbers still contain information about our racial status, amongst other things...

And while I am on this topic - when you apply for a job in this country, you still have to specify which racial group you are a part of – ostensibly for BBBEE/ affirmative action reasons. But is this really the South Africa people died to see birthed? Is everyone okay with this? A country where divisions, labeling and discrimination continue to define our interactions in official or public spheres?

When I lived in the UK there was an outcry at the time about bringing in a form of national identity document. I remember thinking that it wasn’t worth all the fuss – if you have nothing to hide, why would you fear this? But I realise now it’s not about that, it’s about the simple and core freedom to just ‘be’ – it’s as fundamental as that. It’s not about what information they have, or even about what they could do with it anymore, but about my freedom to choose not to be ‘tracked’ on multiple databases, even if I have nothing to hide (most of us certainly have less to hide than these corrupt politicians or the bureaucrats that administer their systems)!

My anger is futile, I know - we already have numerous numbers tracking us through life – including account numbers, drivers’ licenses, student numbers, employee numbers, health or car insurance numbers…and yes, passport numbers. This amounts to our country, and most of the world, being run like a ‘police state’ – their prying fingers touching on, and tracking, every aspect of our lives. My ‘file’ probably looks something like this: “lyn x, white, female, 35, married, dual nationality, postgrad education, currently unemployed, earned us Rx in taxes last year”. If I believed they were interested or efficient enough, they could include such cctv observations as “storms out of banks…”; and even track my facebook, gmail, blogger and twitter accounts too, adding “prone to ranting and railing about politics”. But I doubt they have the time or funding for this, yet…

If all of this fills me, a privileged ‘whitey’ with indignation, then where are the public displays of outrage by those who where there – in those protests, burning pass books, seeing their family and friends ripped apart by bullets (after experiencing traumatic family breakdown: fathers forced to leave families and work on the mines, children in the ‘homelands’ or raised by their grandparents, while their mothers became domestic workers and raised white brats like me)? And is it not perfectly reasonable to expect that our governments spend less money on all this inane bureaucracy (which extends far beyond the ID book of course), more on doing something to improve the lives of the long-neglected masses of this country – rather than merely officially numbering them, and making them wait in ever-lengthening queues?

I think I should go back to that police station – I have a few more things I would like signed and stamped with ‘official approval’ on an ‘affidavit’, starting with:

“I, lyn x (see your own security files for further details), hereby declare my refusal to obtain a ‘green bar-coded ID book’ for the duration of my stay in South Africa - although, and especially because it is the much-beloved country of my birth. And don’t tell me I can’t vote – I tell you I don’t want to anyway: you are all a bunch of Muppets! You have shown yourselves to be untrustworthy and incapable of delivering on our dreams for the New South Africa. I hereby revoke all claims that this political system represents me, but reserve the right to continue to voice my comments and complaints freely and publicly if I so wish (without registering first with a ‘green bar-coded ID book’). Moreover, far from ‘opting out’ of the future of this country, I shall still find ways to contribute, and be politically active – without said ‘green bar-coded ID book’! In fact, if I finally decide to apply for one now, it will only be to burn it in front of parliament, while singing ‘passop Zuma, passop!”

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