I write this in a quaint little coffee shop in the town of Lephalale, in Limpopo. My family and I are en route to Botswana, and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. It’s the first time I’m taking my kids to Botswana; for traditional magazine features, a two-person crew (consisting of a journalist and a photographer) normally rushes in and rushes out. There’s just never enough time to stop and smell the roses.
Now that the kids are a bit bigger, I thought I’d take my family along: instead of showing them photos of a lion or an elephant and telling them about the trip, they’d be able to experience all these things for themselves. Camping in the wild with kids, with no fencing is still a little bit of an unknown quantity. We’ll have to see how that works out. You can read all about camping with kids in the wild in the June issue. But there’s already a story behind this story. We’d secured passports for the kids some years ago, so that bit of administration was at least covered. But there was the unabridged birth certificate conundrum.
In 2012, the South African Government introduced new legislation that required parents travelling across SA’s borders to possess a piece of paper called an unabridged birth certificate. A normal (abridged) birth certificate states that child X was born, and that child X was born on so-and-so date. An ID number is also allocated to them. An unabridged birth certificate adds the parents’ names and particulars to the deal. So, when the child crosses a border with the parents, officials can double check that the minor is indeed in the care of his or her rightful parents. In theory, this makes a lot of sense: if a child is abducted, taking them across the border without this piece of paper is a bit of a nightmare.
In practice, the legislation caused major issues for tourists and travellers. I was once waiting in the check-in line at an international airport in Europe, on my way back to SA. A young European couple, also on their way to SA, had been stopped in their tracks as they did not have an unabridged certificate for their child. I eventually checked in and left them there, being sent from pillar to post between officials to try and resolve the issue. I remember feeling a bit embarrassed by the situation. All they wanted to do was travel and experience our wonderful country, and a piece of paper was preventing them from doing so.
In recent times, the unabridged certificate business came under increasing fire, and quite a few news reports stated that the government had realised the harm this red tape hiccup was causing the tourism industry, and planned to drop it. So, maybe naively, we never sourced an unabridged certificate for our daughter. The younger lad had received his unabridged certificate after his birth, so he was sorted. About a week before we were due to depart, my much smarter better half asked whether our daughter needed one. Nope, I said. That legislature was scrapped long ago. I had read about it in the daily press. Somewhere.
But driving all the way to the Botswana border only to be turned around at the big gates to wildlife heaven was not a cool thought. So I asked around. And to cut a long story short, we needed an unabridged certificate. Our daughter would not be allowed out of the country without one. And that came straight out of the mouth of the head of immigration at the border post we planned to use. Oh crikey! With deposits paid, caravan organised and a rather excited brood, this was a bit of an issue. So off to the local home affairs office I went, bright and early. But I chose the one morning the officialdom had a big internal meeting before opening the doors, so more than an hour later and with no sign of the meeting ending, we jumped that ship, aiming for the next day.
The next day we, with some more pillar and posting, managed to apply for an unabridged certificate… so problem solved. Er, no. Our immigration contact said it was still a no go. We needed an official letter from that Home Affairs office that we have applied for said certificate, and that we are indeed the parents of our daughter. Blimey! So for the third day running we reported to the place of red tape. I must say, the Roodepoort Home Affairs office really rose to the occasion, and just over an hour later we walked out with the magic piece of paper that would allow us to take our daughter to Botswana. In the next two hours we will be crossing the border into Botswana. And we should be fine. I think. We’ll let you know how it went next month.
PS: If you are planning to leave SA with your kids, some news: when you apply for a new passport, you can request that the unabridged certificate is included in the passport. This makes much more sense, we reckon.
Text: Danie Botha