If you’ve been following international news recently, you’ve probably come across reports about an Al-Qaeda leader in Somalia who was killed about two weeks ago. According to reports, the leader allegedly had a South African passport in his possession. International and domestic South African media have been making much of this allegation, and so it was addressed by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) Director-General Mkhuseli Apleni during a media briefing on 15 June.
According to Apleni, the long and the short of it is that the alleged passport was fake. According to an internal investigation, the DHA did not issue any such passport, which could be seen by the way that the identity number on the passport was fraudulent. The DHA ran a check on the ID number in the national population register, and found that it was invalid. So, clearly, somewhere along the line someone did something illegal.
An episode like this one tends to cast a country like South Africa in a very bad light, and it is not to anyone’s advantage that the media have generated so much mileage out of this story. For a long time now there have been known problems with temporary South African passports, which is why the UK, for example, no longer accepts them, but this kind of report has the potential to further damage bilateral relations between South Africa and other countries.
As a member of the developing world of nations, South Africa is home to and a transit point for people of a vast diversity of nationalities. There must be many ways in which it would be possible for someone to fake a South African passport, especially someone in a high position in a terrorist organisation. The danger is that people may assume that there is something inherently wrong with the DHA’s issuing of passports, when actually, there is not. It lies beyond the capacity of any government to control the production of fake passports by terrorist organisations. The fact that the DHA was able to establish that the passport was fake so quickly demonstrates that their system is working and that such illegal activity will not be tolerated. It also demonstrates a commitment by South African authorities to the global campaign against organised terrorist activities.
The fact that the fake passport was supposedly South African is irrelevant. It could have been from any other country. It is therefore obvious that in assessing such reports, one should be as circumspect as possible, and not seek to label an entire country due to the criminal actions of a known terrorist.