Seventy years to the day after the promulgation of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Jesuit Institute South Africa has launched its latest documentary film on forced migration in South Africa. Ricardo da Silva SJ reports on the premiere screening in Auckland Park on Monday 10 December 2018.
‘Denied Access — Stories of Forced Migrants in South Africa’ a new documentary film by the Jesuit Institute South Africa (JI), had its premiere public screening at the JI’s Johannesburg offices last night, 10 December 2018, with some hundred people in attendance.
The film was mostly shot on location in Musina, a border-town between South Africa and Zimbabwe. Thousands of people find themselves there, forcibly displaced from their home countries for a myriad of reasons, whether escaping from political or religious persecution or fleeing wars.
The JI’s media team, Sr Katleho Khang SNJM, Francis Tuson and Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya together with the coordinator of the Jesuits’ social ministries in South Africa, Fr Rampe Hlobo SJ, travelled to Musina in early October to document the stories of forced migrants living there.
Much of the documentary allows people to tell their stories in their own words, albeit that their identities are largely concealed given their vulnerable status. There is also a considerable amount of information from subject experts who detail the tragic international state of affairs relating to forced migration.
Following a massive downpour in central Johannesburg, guests were received at the screening with a glass of wine and a few nibbles. Russell Pollitt, Jesuit priest and director of the JI prefaced the screening with his opening remarks.
In his reflection Pollitt pointed to the contradiction that belied the seventieth anniversary of the UN’s declaration, intended to celebrate the inherent dignity of all persons and their most basic rights to security, when we still live in a world so averse to the other.
‘Denied Access’ is intended as a sobering reminder of the desperate plight of so many in our world and also to witness to the ‘fortitude’, he said, of those who have been forced to leave their homes and begin their lives afresh in a new and often hostile environment.
In closing the director said that a personal invitation had been extended to the mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, but he declined to attend. Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, who is also the southern African Catholic bishops’ representative for the pastoral care of migrants, had also not responded to the invitation.
The premiere screening of the documentary was commended with a healthy applause from the audience. A discussion on forced migration and statelessness led by some of those interviewed in the film followed. One of the most startling interventions was by Lusungu Kanyama Phiri, a lawyer and legal counsellor at Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR).
Recently the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) put forward a proposed change in legislation. The DHA will, in the proposal, not issue birth certificates to children born of foreign parents in South Africa. This would mean that these children would be at risk of becoming stateless especially if their parents are undocumented. She confirmed that in practice these parents are being denied the registration of their children’s birth in South Africa.
According to Phiri, a recent judgment by the Eastern Cape High Court declared this an unconstitutional practice and an incorrect interpretation of the law which requires a parent to be documented before a child can be registered. The South African Constitution states that every person has a right to a name and nationality and that this must be upheld. LHR is still appealing aspects of the judgment but the gist of the matter is that the registration of a child’s birth in South Africa cannot be denied.
Following the discussion, Ursula Van Nierop, the deputy director of the Jesuit Institute, made a special presentation in thanksgiving to Francis Grogan, a religious sister of the congregation of the Holy Cross, featured in the film. Grogan was born in Ireland but has ministered in South Africa for 37 years. She now runs a women’s shelter in Musina where she has been for the past three years and is often the first port of call to migrant women brought to the shelter for protection. Last night’s screening provided the opportunity to extend the Christmas spirit to the 74 women and 24 children living at the shelter. Many made donations of food and clothing to support the work being done there by this Catholic sister and other inter-denominational organisations.
The film is sponsored by the Society of Jesus in South Africa (better known as the Jesuits) and the JI, as part of their joint social justice agenda. Their decision to produce this documentary stems in particular from their commitment to advocate for migrant’s rights. The Jesuits are deeply committed to the plight of migrants having started their own international assistance programme in 1980, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). A work which continues today.