On Wednesday, 6 June 2012 Vanneaux Kongolo, young refugee from the DRC, took his life. It was an act of total despair and desperation.
Vanneaux was a person of great integrity, with a fixation for the truth and justice. This is why as a student in DRC he got involved in the opposition party in politics, to fight abuse and corruption in the Kabila government. He was a very strong character. It would take a lot to bring him to this. He fled from the DRC in 2006, when, in February he was on his way with 2 friends to a political meeting, and stopped to buy some airtime. Soldiers spotted his car and shot at it, not knowing that he was not inside, killing his one companion and wounding the other. Someone smsed him when he was inside the shop and told him not to come out. He escaped out of the back door and made off very soon, to leave his country and come to South Africa. He knew that he could no longer stay in the DRC, because his life was seriously threatened.
To receive recognition as a refugee the international criteria are:
1. Having to flee from one’s country for reason of political persecution or war
2.. That one’s life would be threatened if one returned.
Clearly Vanneaux qualified on these international criteria. but, against all justice, his request for refugee status was rejected. Vanneaux was denied this right, which was not only totally unjust but a death sentence for him as history has now shown. As a result of this unfair rejection, Vanneaux was unable to get registered with the Health Council to do his profession, physiotherapy ( which was a cause of tremendous suffering to him), he had very great difficulty in opening a bank account and so on and so on. We appealled against the rejection and Diana Beamish sat with him through his appeal in May 2008. The lawyer/judge was completely understanding of his situation and we assumed he had granted him status, but Home Affairs never gave it to him – every time they simply said that they had never received any outcome from the Refugee Appeal Board.
His situation got worse and worse. He was attacked outside Mercy House (a home for refugees in Johannesburg where he lived for most of his time in SA) and his refugee permit was stolen. When Home Affairs reprinted it, they did so, but, oddly, gave him a NEW ID number, to our great distress. So when he went to ABSA bank where Mercy House had been able to open an account for him, he was not allowed to withdraw his money, inspite of an affadavit from the police about the attack. He walked around, desperate, for months unable to draw on his salary. That account was closed. In January 2012, Diana Beamish managed to get a new account opened for him at FNB and after a few weeks he went with enormous relief, to collect his ATM card. When he got there they told him that they now had a new regulation and could not give him his card until Home Affairs would verify his document. This was again another death sentence, because we knew that would never happen. It in effect closes banking to refugees.
I then went back to ABSA where he had his original account and explained to the situation to the manageres. She said that she would help him to reopen his account and gave him an appointment for Saturday 26 May, 8.00 a.m. When Vanneaux got there he was told that she had not come to work. No one helped him. He went home very, very disappointed. I called the manager again and she made another appointment for Saturday 2 June. I found out 2 days before he died that he had not even gone. He told me that he was feeling too depressed to even try.
At this moment, June 2012, there are THOUSANDS of refugees sleeping outside Home Affairs in a desperate attempt to get in tomorrow morning. Young refugees are walking around illegal, BECAUSE IN SPITE OF GOING THERE daily and even sleeping outside in the cold, THEY CANNOT EVEN GET INSIDE, OR WHEN THEY DO, THEY are TOLD TO COME BACK ANOTHER DAY. It would appear to me that the treatment that they receive at HOME AFFAIRS is going to kill their spirit, humiliate them and slowly, psychologically strangle them to death, as this case shows.
Vanneaux just gave up hope on life. The root if all his problems emmanated from the fact that Home Affairs unjustly and xenophobically denied him refugee status which he qualified for and which would have enabled him to lead a normal life and contribute to society with his much-needed skills. It was a huge worry to him that he could not register in the profession which to him was a calling. He was a very solid and strong character – it would take a lot to break him, but Home Affairs did.