After 33 years of being considered a South African, I found out today that actually I, along with my wife, are not South Africans any more. Our SA citizenship was lost automatically on acquiring British citizenship because we had not formally applied for permission, or retention of SA citizenship BEFORE applying for UK Naturalisation!
My fault really :-( I was impatient to get my UK nationality sorted out, and I thought I could kill two birds with one stone. So what I did back in 2009 was apply in parallel. I thought I could get my Home Office letter proving I'm not yet a UK citizen, send that off to SA Home Affairs at at the same time apply for UK naturalisation...but it didn't work out well, because as soon as I got the letters from Home Office, the naturalisation application followed suit the next day!
So I could've sent the SA retention application anyway to see what would happen, but decided against doing that because if for some reason the SA people called the UK Home office then that letter would've contradicted the status with the Home Office...so I said, not a big deal...I'm pretty much free to travel the world on a UK passport and I could zip in and out of SA on visits to the family...
Little did I realise that I would actually be moving back to SA soon, the idea of going back to work in SA was far off in the future. Just proves how life is so unpredictable.
So after many weeks of email conversation umming and arrrring about my situation with various immigration consultants, which by the way, gave conflicting advice, I decided to go to the SA Consulate today to get things sorted out. What was really annoying though, is that the people I was talking to via email, refused to offer advice, or make any effort in understanding my situation. All I got was "Please come in with BI-529 application, original certificates and we'll see what we can do". Up at 4AM getting ready for the trip to London, took the 6:43 train to London Waterloo from Eastleigh station. I thought I would make it in good time as the office only opens at 08h45am - but when I turned the corner to Whitehall, looking for the building as I hadn't been there in my 8 years of living in UK, I walk past this long queue of people, and then it struck me I was right in front of the building...lo and behold, in typical SA fashion, people are queuing out early in the cold...a nice introduction of what's in store for me when I get back :-)
Waiting in the queue for 30 minutes, then get called, I speak to the lady at the counter, explain the situation and why I'm there.
"Show me your paperwork"
"Here you go - BI-529, ID book, passport, naturalisation"
"Where's your photocopies"
"What photocopies - nobody mentioned I needed photocopies - see the email. They said bring original documents"
"I don't know who's that person who told you that..."
"Mrs Stone, she works here. I didn't bring copies. Do you have a photocopier I could use?"
"We don't do photocopies, that's not what we're here for. Go and get photocopies and come back"
"I'm not from London, where should I go?"
"Just go round to Charing cross station, opposite is Ryman stationer - you can get copies there. Come back and see me"
I lose an 45 minutes sorting the photocopies out....but the rest of the waiting and the process pretty much went smoothly...
Long story short - I'm in a bit of a mess here because I didn't follow protocol to the letter. And in an instant, one can lose one's nationality...In my heart I'm still African, even though I live in the UK and am naturalised, my heart still belongs in Africa - but I've blended into UK society and pretty much become invisible like the rest of the 60 million sheep living a life of comfort, efficiency, safety and routine...
Advice to you if you're a South African living in the UK that just happened to stumble upon my blog:
- Follow procedure
- Be very patient
- You will lose your citizenship if you don't follow the rules to the letter. Do not apply for naturalisation before doing the SA paperwork...
- By the way, the email address they have on their website for emergencies:
In cases of extreme emergency, applicants concerned should send their emergency requests to:Lusibanet@dirco.gov.za or fax to: 020 783 5198
is wrong - you should use: Lusibanet@foreign.gov.za
Another trick I found to get information about who to contact - just google "dirco.gov.za" and you'll find some useful sites and contact names popping up...this site contains some useful info not on the consular pages...
Still, it's not a complete loss. I can return to SA as a permanent resident, live and work there without restrictions, the only exception is I won't be considered a citizen of South Africa...if I live there long enough, 3 years, then I'm entitled to regain SA citizenship...or possibly apply for dual-citizenship...