09 July, 2009

Don't leave your passport at home!

So I am walking down High Street in Grahamstown checking out National Arts Festival.

Suddenly, my street vendor friend is surrounded by six police men and women. I ask what all the fuss is about. The vendor opposite him—he’s a Ugandan whose name I didn’t catch— tells me the police wanted to know whether my friend was in South Africa legally.

My friend is Emeka Okusons, a Nigerian who came to South Africa specifically for the Festival to sell jewellery and make some money.

As the Ugandan and I are talking about Emeka’s problem, a police officer comes over and starts speaking to me in isiXhosa. “I am sorry I don’t speak that language,” I say.

“Oh I’ll have to see your passport then,” she says. Luckily, I am carrying my passport for the first time since I arrived on 3 July. I hand it over to the officer—H. Janesha. After looking through my passport, she’s all nice asking questions like “so this is your first time here?”; “are you enjoying yourself?”

I thought to myself, “Is that an irony or what?” I go to investigate someone’s immigration status and the police turn on me for my own immigration status. I breathe a sigh of relief and head to the Absa Bank branch on High Street to change some money.

At the bank, I am at the back of a long queue. Finally, it’s my turn and the cashier takes my dollars and my passport.

“What are you doing in South Africa?” she asks.

“Where are you staying?”

“What is your address in SA?”

It went on and and on. She made a copy of my passport and then gave me SA Rands.

My two encounters with SA officialdom happen back-back and stress me out completely. I start to think that maybe the Rainbow Nation that I’ve fallen so much in love with is not that nice to foreigners especially black ones. This is because I notice the police are only stopping and checking the status of black foreigners, yet I can see many more white people walking by without being hassled.

All confused, I go back and speak to the cashier about why she had to ask me all those questions and photocopied my passport. I just can’t comprehend why I had to go through all that just to change money as this is not done in both England and Ghana where I grew up.

The nice cashier lady tells me it’s procedure and that South Africans go through an even tougher process.

Alas! I feel better and start to fall in love with South Africa all over again.

By: Selina Bebaako-Mensah

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