Answer to a question from a reader

Can a non-South African write Grade 12 exams?

The short answer

Yes, as long as you have some kind of proof of identity.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

Is it possible for me to write my Grade 12 exams even though I am not a South African citizen? What do I need for this to be allowed?

The long answer

Yes, you can.

This is because of a very important court case in the Eastern Cape in 2019 in the Makhanda High Court. Judge Selby Mbenenge said that all children had the right to basic education in terms of Section 29 of the Constitution, whether they had official documentation or not.

He found that clauses 15 and 21 of the Schools Admission Policy for Ordinary Public Schools of 1998 were unconstitutional:

Clause 15 said that a parent had to give the school an official birth certificate for the child, and if they could not get the certificate from Home Affairs in 12 months, the school could kick the child out.

Clause 21 said that non-citizen parents had to prove that they had applied to Home Affairs to legalise their stay in the country, or the child would be kicked out.

Judge Mbenenge said both clauses were unconstitutional and the Department of Basic Education was interdicted from excluding or removing any child, even illegal foreign children, after being admitted to school simply because the child did not have an ID, a birth certificate or other documentation. 

(I have bolded the following text for your information):

Where a learner could not provide a birth certificate, school principals were ordered to accept alternate proofs of identity such as an affidavit or sworn statement by the parent, caregiver or guardian.

After that judgment, more than 13,000 undocumented students wrote their matric in 2019. 

In spite of the 2019 Makhanda court ruling, it’s still not clear whether undocumented matric candidates will be issued with matric certificates.

In 2018, before the 2019 judgment, the Department of Basic Education said that in the case of undocumented foreign learners, they would “allow these candidates to register to write the examination. But these candidates will not have their results issued until they produce the necessary documentation.”  

Umalusi (the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training) is the body that issues matric certificates. In January 2020, the Umalusi spokesperson, Lucky Ditaunyane, said that undocumented learners are issued with their matric certificates with their date of birth rather than ID number. He said that the certificate would be as good as one with an ID number when applying for a job or for university.

But higher education institutions require a copy of the applicant’s ID, as does the NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme), so the road ahead is still a rocky one for undocumented learners.

This may be another issue that will have to be settled in court.

Elijah Mhlanga of the Department of Basic Education advised parents to speedily apply to Home Affairs for assistance in obtaining IDs as their children would continue to face problems if they were undocumented. Without their own IDs parents cannot apply for documents for their school-going children, nor open bank accounts or access child support grants.

When applying for an ID, DHA Form B1-9 must be filled out in black ink at Home Affairs. If there is no birth certificate, forms DHA-24, DHA-24/A x 2 and DHA-288 must be filled in to register the birth.

If your parents are struggling with these problems, they could consult the following organisations for advice and assistance:

Scalabrini Centre (Cape Town)
Tel: 021 465 6433

Legal Resources Centre
Tel: Cape Town: 021 481 3000
Tel: Johannesburg: 011 836 9831  

Lawyers for Human Rights
Tel: Cape Town: 021 424 8561
Johannesburg Office and law clinic
Tel: 011 339 1960

Wishing you the best,

Answered on March 19, 2021, 11:45 a.m.

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