INNER EXILE (ongoing project)
South Africa has always been a land of immigration; from the Bantu tribes of Central Africa in the 1st Century to the European colonizers in the 17th. Since the end of Apartheid and the rise of democracy, the country has seen a huge rise in the number of African migrants.
Fleeing extraordinarily difficult economic, social or political situations in their home countries, many young men and women from all over the continent gravitate to South Africa looking for a better life.
The constitution of Post Apartheid South Africa was always seen as one of the most progressive in the world in all its aspects. When it comes to migrant rights, it provided many opportunities for those seeking refuge to integrate in society, making the country even more welcoming to foreigners. But over the last years, mirroring global trends, this reality is changing. Hostility and misunderstandings are on the rise.
Musina is the northernmost city of the country and is the entry point for most of the “new- comers”. Here they have to wait to be processed and obtain the necessary legal documents to continue their way south. Every day, hundreds of foreigners assemble in front of the department of Home Affairs, hoping to obtain their refugee status or to renew their documents.
Due to a huge number of applicants, the procedure take a long time. Very often a new comer has to wait a month before being able to start his application. A month during which he has to fend for himself without any exterior help. Stuck in some kind of Limbo, between his past and the future he came to seek. He has to wait not knowing if he will be given the opportunity he so desperately wants to start his new life.
Of course, those with means manage to find a space in one of the makeshift hostels of the town. Owners convert their homes, spreading mattresses on the floor, making sure every inch of space is used.
For those who run out of money there are only two options: sleep in the streets or head to one of the improvised refugee camps in Nancefield, Musina’s township.
In Musina, time stands still and the days go by, all looking the same. A mix of Congolese rumba and French hip-hop can be heard in the background. Young men lift weights in the garden of one of the hostels. In the evenings, the football games on television help the minds escape from the daily routine.
For the most part, the application is denied. Their only option: to start an appeal procedure, another process which can take years. While the appeal is put in motion they will get a temporary asylum seeker permit. Even though it is an official document, many institutions
don’t recognize it fully. It has to be renewed regularly. Making the integratation into the country even more a fore-lone hope.
But despite all the hardships and the precarity of the situation, South Africa remains, for those many who come everyday to try their luck, Desmond Tutu’s “Rainbow Nation”.