01/07/2015 - American Physician and Three Children Granted Entry into South Africa

The American physician, Martina Mookadam, and her three children were released from the detention centre at OR Tambo International Airport around 6 pm yesterday and were united with their family at around 7 pm.  Late yesterday afternoon an official from Home Affairs, who was very considerate and efficient, assured us that she was referring the matter to very senior officials.  At 17h38 this very kind individual got back to us to say she was awaiting feedback and soon after at 17h58 she got back to say the family had been released.  The physician at that point confirmed to her South African family that they had been released and that transport could be resent to fetch them.

Child trafficking, disappearance of children with one of the spouses and similar kinds of contraventions have to be combatted.  Those are noble ideas espoused by Home Affairs in preventing grief and misery for many families.  This need to prevent such contraventions of law has to be balanced by decent conduct towards those who may not have the correct documentation for whatever reason.  The South African family of the American physician was not permitted to see her, no rational explanation was entertained by Home Affairs officials, she was not told which flight she was being deported on and the general attitude and body language of officials was just negative.  These are totally unacceptable procedures and "criminalises" ordinary individuals be they a physician from Mayo Clinic in America or a street vendor from Chad.  Home Affairs should consider establishing specialized arbitration units at the various ports of entry to deal with individual cases on their merits.  Very highly qualified Home Affairs personnel could head these units and must have the authority to make informed decisions in the absence of correct documentation.  Secondary guarantees could be established through various mechanisms as a safeguard within the new law.  People should be given access to their families, local SIM cards or the use of the telephone, and family members should be kept abreast of all developments.  We are not dealing with criminals in every instant and therefore, our approach should always be very human and we could still apply the law so that even when people are deported at least they have the experience that they were dealt with humanely and decently.  Even if they wanted diapers or sanitary pads or some kind of medication they must be granted that right.

We are thankful to the Home Affairs official we spoke to and those within the department who intervened timeously otherwise within the next hour the family would have been deported.  These officials didn't break the law, they applied it rationally and humanely.  This physician was not absconding with her three children; her husband will be arriving in South Africa soon.