A Boksburg transgender man has been subjected to 26 years of nightmarish and life-altering abuse by the Department of Home Affairs.
The Pretoria News reported that the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria last week gave the department 20 days to accurately reflect Stephen Lombard’s gender on a new ID document, including an updated picture.
Lombard, who underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1988, has been struggling for almost three decades to get Home Affairs to do its job and identify him as a man.
“I have been discriminated against on the grounds of gender and sex and have been deprived of basic human rights and dignity,” he said in court documents. “The lack of a correct ID document affects my life on a daily basis as I cannot conduct basic transactions that require that I produce my ID book.”
Among the many indignities the 49-year-old faced was being beaten by officials when trying to get a driver’s license because his ID did not match his appearance.
While Home Affairs had previously agreed to change his name, it had refused to change his identity number (to reflect as male) or to update his photograph.
“I was accused of fraud and beaten by unnamed officials as it is evident from my appearance that I am a man, but my ID document reflects that I am a woman,” Lombard stated.
Because of his inaccurate identity document, he was also unable to obtain visas, open a bank account or get credit and struggled to find employment.
Among the reasons given by the department for its inaction was that Lombard had conceived a child when he lived as a woman, making it impossible, according to officials, for him to be male. Eventually, with the support of the Wits Law Clinic, he felt he had no option but to turn to the courts.
Despite South Africa’s progressive legislation, Home Affairs officials have been repeatedly accused of breaking the law and refusing to provide services to LGBT people. This includes delaying or refusing identity document changes to transgender people and turning away same-sex couples who wish to marry.
In October 2014, Nadia Swanepoel from Florida, Johannesburg was forced to embark on a hunger strike to protest against the department’s three year delay in correcting her ID. Only after risking her life and embarrassing the department in the media did she win her battle for equality.
In August last year, Juanita van Zyl, a transgender woman was humiliated by officials at the Centurion Home Affairs branch when she was publicly questioned about her gender, repeatedly called “sir”, and refused service. She too was only helped by the department when her appalling treatment made headlines.
In June, Malusi Gigaba, the Minister of Home Affairs, admitted that his department had often failed LGBTI South Africans, but promised to take steps to ensure that they are treated as equal citizens.
Based on Lombard’s shocking case, it seems that Minister Gigaba still has much work to do.