Francois Oosthuizen simply wants to live in South Africa with his same-sex family, husband Bowen Li and their son
Officials from South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs have been accused of being unnecessarily cruel in separating a same-sex family by dragging out one of the men’s permanent residence application.
Francois Oosthuizen, 40, a South African, his Chinese national husband, Bowen Li, 37, and their four-year-old son have been forced apart because the department has refused to allow Li to stay in the country. While Francois is in Cape Town, the rest of his family is now in China hoping for Li’s permanent residence to be approved.
Despite being married for almost seven years and having all their paperwork in place, Li’s application has still not been processed after an astonishing two years. The couple met when Francois was working as an English teacher in China. “From the very beginning, there was some kind of connection between the two of us. It just felt very comfortable, and we had the same kind of ideas about life and about travelling and things like that,” he reveals.
They went on to legally marry in South Africa in October 2016, and a few years later welcomed their son through surrogacy, also in South Africa. It’s here in this country where they see their future, but those plans are now in limbo. After Li submitted his permanent residence application two years ago, the couple has been unable to get any response from Home Affairs about the status of the application and if and when it will be approved.
About a month ago, Li’s temporary residence came to an end, and he was forced to return to China together with their son. “A month might not seem like it’s a very long time,” says an emotional Francois, “but it’s very difficult for me because I love my husband and my son very much. It’s really difficult for me to wake up every morning and realise that they are not here. That I can’t just reach out and touch them and hug them and hold them and kiss them.”
Despite repeated emails and phone calls to the department, their inquiries have been ignored or rebuffed. “I think this is a big part of the frustration because they don’t update anybody, so you don’t know what’s going on,” explains Francois.
“One can’t help but wonder whether being gay is part of the reason why it’s taking so long…”
While he is aware that other binational couples are in a similar predicament, Francois can’t rule out that homophobia is at play in their particular case. After all, the same-sex family has had personal experience with Home Affairs homophobia before.
“We had a problem with the Department of Home Affairs refusing to issue the birth certificate for our son because we are gay, even though we went through the whole legal surrogacy process,” he says. The matter was only resolved after the couple went to a local newspaper that published an article on their plight.
“And so one can’t help but wonder whether being gay is part of the reason why it’s taking so long, especially considering our history with the department. Is it the same thing again?”
The couple at the birth of their son
The family is now turning to the media and the public to help pressure Home Affairs to simply do what they are supposed to do. Francois has launched a petition together with Change.org calling on the department to approve his husband’s permanent residence application. “We just want to be together as a family. Our appeal to the Department of Home Affairs is to let us stay and be together and be united as a family here in South Africa,” he says.
Becoming emotional again, Francois adds: “The spotlight needs to be shown on this, that this is not okay. This is not the way we should deal with people’s lives. This is not the way we should deal with people’s relationships.”
If you would like to show your support for Francois and his family’s cause, please sign the petition here.