MP Accused of Lying About Being a South African Citizen
A South African newspaper has accused a DA member of parliament Phumzile Van Damme of lying about her being a South African citizen.
The full report by reads:
A Sunday Times investigation has established that Phumzile Van Damme is a foreign national who misrepresented where she was born, which disqualifies her from being a South African MP.
In her profile on the DA website, she claims she was “born in 1983 in Nelspruit but spent my early childhood in Swaziland and Belgium”.
Asked to comment on her party spokeswoman being caught out in a lie, DA leader Helen Zille said: “Why is this an issue?”
When Zille was informed that the constitution required that all South African MPs be either South African or naturalised citizens and that her spokeswoman was neither, she said she was out of the country and “cannot deal with this from here”.
A Sunday Times investigation has established that:
Phumzile Van Damme was born in Nazarene Hospital, now known as Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital, in Manzini, Swaziland, in 1983;
Her mother, Lynette van Damme née Masuku, was born in Hlathikhulu village in Swaziland and was a second-year teaching student at the University of Swaziland when she gave birth to Phumzile; and
Phumzile’s biological father was Elroy Mayisela, a Swazi national who is deceased.
For three weeks, Phumzile and her mother have ducked the question of where she was born, sometimes giving conflicting answers.
She conceded that she did not have a birth certificate and supplied an “abridged” version, sourced from the Department of Home Affairs last week, that states her “country of birth” as South Africa. She denied she was born in Swaziland and accused her detractors of jealousy.
But Sunday Times reporters visited Swaziland this week and found records at the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital as well as at St Michael’s Primary School in Manzini, where Phumzile spent three years between 1990 and 1992. Sunday Times reporters also visited Hlathikhulu village, about 100km from the capital Mbabane, where Lynette was born and raised.
The hospital’s master register, a manual record of children born at the facility in the 1980s and late 1990s, before electronic filing was introduced, confirmed that she was born there.
Her mother was admitted on July 19 1983 and gave birth the next day. The mother and daughter were discharged five days later, on July 25 1983. The register also names Mayisela as the father.
According to St Michael’s records, she was enrolled as a Grade 1 pupil on January 30 1990, when she was seven years old. She left the school on December 10 1992, having passed Grade 3.
Phumzile’s cousin, Prince Masuku, confirmed that she had been born in Swaziland. He said the last time the family saw her was in 2012 when she came to bury her grandmother, Phumzile Masuku.
A former close friend of Phumzile’s mother said she and other friends visited the then newborn Phumzile at the Nazarene Hospital.
Mayisela, a former teacher at the Central High School in Manzini, broke up with Phumzile’s mother when Phumzile was seven or eight years old, sources said.
The mother began dating Hugo van Damme, a Belgian, who was in Swaziland as a consultant. They married and moved to Europe with the young Phumzile.
When the couple divorced, mother and child headed to Nelspruit.
The mother’s South African citizenship is also being disputed. Sources insisted she was born in Hlathikhulu to a Swazi father and a South African-born mother.
This means Phumzile Van Damme is ineligible to be an MP. The constitution requires an MP to be either South African-born or naturalised.
Political analyst Professor Lesiba Teffo said Van Damme could be stripped of her position if she was found to be a foreigner who had flouted the citizenship laws.
“By definition, it cannot be. You can’t have a Zimbabwean walking in here today and be an MP,” said Teffo. “That would be illegal, illegitimate and contrary to the rules laid down for people to become MPs.”
Van Damme dismissed as “absolutely not true” claims that she was a foreign national with a fraudulently acquired South African identity document.
“I am not sure why my citizenship is being questioned. Maybe it is because most of my family still live in Swaziland. Maybe it is because I hold a strange surname from the only father I know. Maybe it is because it is designed to discredit me.”
She said that she was “born in Nelspruit. I grew up in Swaziland. My grandparents live there.”
Asked where in Nelspruit she was born, she replied: “I am not sure, hey. I think in White River.”
Van Damme also confirmed that her mother had been pregnant with her while a student at Swaziland University and that Mayisela was her biological father.
Her parents broke off their relationship when Phumzile was “very young” and her mother met Van Damme when she was five.
“He has always been my father. He legally adopted me when I was about 10 years old and my parents took the decision to change my surname to Van Damme,” she said.
Her mother told her she was born “at a hospital in Nelspruit” and that she had been “part of the struggle” at the time, but never disclosed any details of her relationship with her father. “It was very traumatic, from what I can tell.”
Lynette contradicted her daughter’s claims that she was born in Nelspruit or White River. She claimed her daughter was born in Kamhlushwa, a village near Mbuzini, more than 100km east of Nelspruit. Asked to confirm or deny that Mayisela was Phumzile’s biological father, she said “yes and no”.
She denied that Phumzile was born in Manzini, but refused to supply the name of the South African hospital where she claimed her daughter was born, or answer a direct question about whether she was born in Nazarene Hospital.
She said her ANC struggle background did not allow her to divulge such “secrets”.
“I was involved in the ANC and some of the things around children’s birth are very complex, as you would know as an African.
“You are an African, I think, and if I go into … you don’t know … the nature of her birth was … it’s a bit very secret,” she said.
Lynette, a former SANParks general manager and former South African Heritage Agency CEO, insisted that she was a South African-born national and denied being born in Hlathikhulu. But she claimed not to know where she was born.
“It’s a pity my mother is [dead] because she knows where I was born. My mother has kept it secret due to the nature of my birth.”
This week, when presented with evidence of her birth in Raleigh Fitken Memorial Hospital in Swaziland, Phumzile van Damme said: “Your allegations differ significantly from what I have always known growing up. Therefore, for absolute certainty for myself, I’m conducting my own investigation.”
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