Living under the constant threat of forced separation for more than a year, a married binational same-sex couple have appealed to Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, to recognise them as a family.
Earlier this year, we reported on the bureaucratic and possibly homophobic challenges faced by American Wendy Kessman and South African Nomfundo Ngidi, who tied the knot in January 2017.
Since then, the Department of Home Affairs has repeatedly rejected their bid for Kessman to be allowed to stay in South Africa with her legal wife. Their last request was rejected in February, and they are awaiting the result of their final appeal.
The desperate couple have now written an open letter to Minister Gigaba, published below, in which they urge him to fulfill his constitutional and moral obligations.
7 May 2018
Dear Minister of Home Affairs Mr Malusi Gigaba,
We are writing this letter to you as a reminder of the real impact at your hands and as an invitation to meet to find a way forward.
We started this journey with the Department of Home Affairs in consultations dating back to winter of 2016; you were minister back then too. We won’t detail all of the intricacies of our case here as you can look that up with a quick search of our names, and at this moment we would rather appeal to you as a husband, a father, and as someone who claims to be a supporter of the LGBTI community.
Mr Gigaba, we are a family too. We are committed and married, just as you and your wife are. We are tired of consistently having to plead and prove we are worthy of the same dignity and rights as any other family afforded to them by the South African Constitution.
When one of your representatives called 8 February 2018 to notify us of our third rejection for a spousal visa claiming that the Stewart case, whose precedence protects us, does not apply as they had ‘different circumstances’ we are forced to ask ourselves what exactly it is that you believe makes us ‘different’?
Do we not have the same hopes and dreams as any other family in South Africa? Do we not share the same love and resolve that binds us through this trying time at the hands of your department? Is the ‘different circumstances’ the fact that the Stewart family had children? We want children too, and like any other responsible couple would question how can we bring them up in this legal uncertainty?
How does our family not live in fear of constant state interference when up until this day it is all we have known? We take our vow seriously, and we will be there for each other for better or worse, but Mr Gigaba how can we grow as a couple, as a family, when we are not allowed to reach our full potential? When one of us is not allowed the rights and privileges as a South African resident it doesn’t only impact the two of us but all those who love, care, and rely on us.
How can we build and strengthen our relationships with family abroad when we are not allowed to cross borders for fear of being determined ‘undesirable’ and barred from returning? How can we reach the goals we set together, to have a wedding, to further our studies, to have children, to buy a house, to spend time with and take care of our parents, the same goals couples across the country hold tightly as their markers of success, when we are barred from working, studying, and stepping foot on half our family’s homeland?
In a February 2017 Robben Island wedding you said: “The department wishes to encourage South Africans to get married for love, for the right purpose, to the right partner.” Not only are we in this for love but we did everything to play by the rules set out by your department.
We followed the law and advice given by your officials. From the start we wanted to do things right so there was never an excuse to hold us back, and yet you have found a way. Mr Gigaba we are tired of being dismissed. We are not merely a reference number, a case file, or a couple to be appeased.
If we have to stand on the steps of Department of Home Affairs every single day until you listen, until you see the faces and hear the stories of the very people whose dreams you are stepping on, we will. We know we won’t be standing on our own, as our case is hardly alone in the history of your department’s discrimination and mistreatment of LGBTI couples, families, and individuals. You might have made us stronger in our love and determination to stand by each other, but let us go on with our lives. We have so much to do and to give to our families and our communities, help, don’t hinder us.
Our final appeal is past due on your desk. Give us a way out that keeps our family and our dignity intact. And if not, let us have our day in court. We are confident the law and the intrinsic goodness of the South African people are on our side.
Nomfundo & Wendy Ngidi-Kessman