Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 16
  • SDG 10
  • Abstract:

    In 1915 Baba Bapoo, a store assistant in Cape Town, was thrown into a state of great mental and emotional stress when he lost his permit en route to India. This was the only document that could guarantee his re-admission to South Africa. He wrote to a friend to apply for a replacement indicating, 'Since I have made the lost [sic] my heart has turned into madness'. He managed to secure a fresh permit as his application was on record in the Cape Town Immigration Department. Osman Vazir was less fortunate he left for India rather suddenly, in the process omitting to secure a permit. Later, he wrote an impassioned plea from India to the Immigration Department in Cape Town citing all the documents in his possession which proved he had been in South Africa: 'I have got a register of Transvaal, a pass of Free State, a certificate from Gas Co., a receipt for a pass which was received by me in 1907, a card from Somerset Hospital...' He, however, did not have the right paper needed to re-enter Cape Town. His plea to be allowed in 'with both hands joined, as one to the Almighty and a father' was in vain. In the late 1930s, Walter Sisulu was arrested and taken to the Hillbrow police station in Johannesburg because there was 'something wrong with my pass book'. After paying a fine he was released. The position of African males in South Africa's urban spaces was aptly summed up by a migrant labourer in Peter Abrahams' novel: 'Man's life is controlled by pieces of paper'.