Controversy has emerged surrounding the South African citizenship of the Democratic Alliance (DA) member of parliament, Phumzile van Damme. This weekend, the Sunday Times revealed that van Damme – also recently appointed as National Spokesperson – was actually born in Manzini, Swaziland, in 1983. The paper, which conducted the investigation internally, subsequently labelled van Damme a “liar and a fraud”, accusing her of lying about where she was born.
The DA later came to the defense of van Damme, saying that she was misled into believing that she was born in South Africa. In a press statement released on Sunday, the party said that they would lay a complaint with the Press Ombudsman and are claiming that the Sunday Times report is “opportunistic and libelous at worst”.
Initially, when I first read the Sunday Times story, I was convinced that van Damme is indeed a liar and a fraud. When the topic came up again during our weekly Live Magazine editorial meeting, my colleague Tshepo questioned why it should matter if she was born in South Africa or not. The Sunday Times reported that “the constitution requires that all South African MP’s be either South African or naturalized citizens”. Having learned this, it quickly turned into a debate when I stated that it would be an infringement on the constitution for her to be a member of parliament if indeed she was found to have acquired her South African citizenship fraudulently.
This was the impression I had before I read through the DA’s press statement released by the DA’s other National spokesperson Marius Redelinghuys. In the statement Redelinghuys explains that “van Damme only became aware of the potential questions around her citizenship when approached by the Sunday Times.”
This then becomes a tricky situation, what I gathered from this statement is that it is not van Damme’s fault that she was led to believe that she was born in South Africa. This still does not cancel out the other important fact that the Sunday Times has records proving that van Damme was indeed born at the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital in Swaziland. This is a fact that cannot be disputed.
More confusion then arises, according to Redelinghuys’s press statement, van Damme’s recent “personal investigation” revealed that her birth was registered at Home Affairs in Pietermaritzburg in the mid-1990s. So now we have two records contradicting each other, which one do we believe, and which do we not?
Was the Sunday Times correct in labeling van Damme as a “fraud and a lair”? Should van Damme continue as a South African MP bearing in mind what the Sunday Times is suggesting about her not being a naturalized South African citizen?
The #2014Elections have set an exciting and vibrant context for the future of South Africa politics to unfold upon. What happens now that you’ve voted? How do we gauge whether we’re “moving the country forward”, whether we’re “bringing change” or “economic freedom in our lifetime”? Stick with #LiveVIPZA and we’ll give you analysis, debates, comments, polls and all YOU need to understand, enjoy and interact with SA politics.