DA to take on Sunday Times over article on MP's citizenship

By IAfrica
In South Africa
Jun 29th, 2014

JOHANNESBURG – The Democratic Alliance says it will lay a complaint with the Press Ombudsman against the Sunday Times following its report on the citizenship of DA National Spokesperson Phumzile Van Damme.

In a statement on Sunday, DA national spokesperson Marius Redelinghuys said the “report is opportunistic at best, and libellous at worst.” 

The newspaper published a report on Sunday claiming its journalists visited Swaziland and found “records at the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital as well as at St Michael’s Primary School in Manzini, where Van Damme spent three years between 1990 and 1992.”

The report also said Van Damme and her mother had dodged questions over her citizenship for three weeks. 

In response to the article, the DA said defamatory remarks were made about their member, which labelled her a “liar and a fraud”.

“The circumstances surrounding her birth and the registration of accompanying documentation cannot be attributed to her and was entirely beyond her control,” said Redelinghuys.

“Labelling Van Damme a “liar and a fraud” is defamatory and gutter journalism. Van Damme only became aware of the potential questions around her citizenship when approached by the Sunday Times. Naturally this is a deeply personal matter that is greatly concerning to her.”

The party insisted that Van Damme is a South African citizen. “Van Damme is a South African citizen and possesses the necessary documentation to support this, including a birth certificate and a valid identity document. These documents were made available to the paper.”

The party also claimed on Sunday that after receiving questions from the Sunday Times, Van Damme “categorically stated that she has not had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances of her birth and registration having accepted the account of her mother.” Van Damme informed the paper that she would investigate this herself.

Redelinghuys said Van Damme’s recent personal investigation revealed that her birth was registered at Home Affairs in Pietermaritzburg in the mid-1990s. “A Home Affairs official told Van Damme’s mother that she should register Van Damme based on the understanding that she was born in South Africa and was entitled to South African citizenship. The official informed Van Damme’s mother that the Department of Home Affairs was dealing with a huge case load of those exiled by apartheid now returning to claim their South African citizenship, and since her family fell into that group, it would be easier to register Van Damme as born in South Africa. 

The DA also provided the media with Van Damme’s family history in which they claimed: “Van Damme’s grandmother left South Africa in the 1950s to escape apartheid and settled in Swaziland. Van Damme’s mother took the advice from the Home Affairs official in good faith, given the confusion that characterised Home Affairs during the transition.

“It is regrettable that Van Damme’s mother did not inform herself of the relevant rules for registering citizenship, and that Van Damme was registered based on birth and not because she was entitled to citizenship through her biological father and grandparents. Van Damme’s mother also acknowledges that she was too scared to return to Home Affairs to correct this detail.”

The party said Van Damme “was a victim of circumstances beyond her control” regarding her registration but reiterated that she “is a South African citizen” and that “the DA will protect this status vigorously.”

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