the beehive short animation

The Beehive

education is power film

Education Is Power

Critical Skills: A documentary

South Africa is losing out on the skills of refugees living in the country. Critical Skills, our new documentary released on Labour Day 2021, looks at the struggles that skilled refugees face in order to practice in South Africa. Complex requirements result in doctors and vets working as trench-diggers and meat-packers. The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town is advocating for improved systems to recognize skilled refugees, thus allowing them to practice and the South African economy to benefit from their qualifications.

Critical Skills follows Dr Ntumba, a veterinary doctor from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who specializes in agropastoralism, and Dr Futu, a medical doctor also from DRC, who managed a hospital in the conflict-ridden Eastern provinces of Congo providing care to victims of war. Both Dr Ntumba and Dr Futu left DRC due to political instability.

Simply unable to get their skills recognised in South Africa, Dr Ntumba works packing meat in a supermarket and Dr Futu finds small jobs such as trench-digging. ‘Emotionally, you feel diminished,’ explains Dr Ntumba. ‘Without practicing, I will lose my skills. South Africa is actually losing … they should have used me.’

Paper battles in South Africa

The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) is the sole authority to recognize foreign qualifications in South Africa. Dr Julie Reddy, acting CEO of SAQA, and Mr Navin Vasudev, Deputy Director, who feature in the documentary, evaluate foreign qualifications against the South African National Qualifications Framework. Yearly, SAQA evaluates around 25,000 foreign qualifications.

Applicants to this SAQA process require a host of documents – including every original transcript of each year passed at college or university. For refugees who have fled their countries due to war or persecution, having all these documents is very difficult. Universities in certain areas (especially those affected by conflict) may have shut down, barring SAQA’s ability to verify information.

A pilot project: evaluation of incomplete documentation of refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa

In response to refugees and asylum seekers’ lack of original documents, SAQA has been working on alternative ways to recognise asylum and refugee applicants. This culminated in SAQA drawing up an addendum that allows for a special dispensation to recognise qualifications of refugees and asylum seekers. SAQA ran a pilot project in November 2019 to allow for alternative means of verifying and evaluating qualifications whilst allowing for stringent checks. 

Professional councils: the next hurdle

If SAQA recognition is achieved, another hurdle is faced by foreign applicants: registration with a relevant professional council. This is a cumbersome and expensive process – sitting the South African Veterinary Council exam, for example, costs around 34 000 ZAR. On top of this, most professional bodies only accept refugee documentation, and not asylum seeker documentation. (A recent report found that 60% of asylum respondents’ adjudications took over five years – so many asylum-seekers spend considerable lengths of time on asylum documentation.)

Three ideas for South African authorities

Hylton Bergh, Employment Access Manager at the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, works to ensure asylum seeker, refugee and migrant clients are able to practice their skills in South Africa. In the documentary, he explains three changes that could ensure an improved process for the employment of qualified refugees in South Africa:

Professional councils need to be made aware of the circumstances of foreign nationals and their value, both monetary and intellectual, to the various professional sectors – which includes allowing asylum seekers to register with professional bodies.

The South African government could reconsider BBBEE policies, especially as it relates to the Critical Skills List, because refugees from elsewhere in Africa currently do not contribute to BBBEE points.

South African industries could advocate for changes to the above policies because the more skilled our work force the better the economic growth for our country.


Hylton Bergh

Employment Access Manager

Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town

Navin Vasudev

Deputy Director-Verification Foreign Qualifications Evaluation and Advisory Services

South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA)

Lotte Manicom

Advocacy Communications Manager

Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town


Goods: Film on spaza shops’ role under lockdown

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Today we release a new mini-documentary, Goods, which explores the vital role ‘spaza shops’ played under South Africa’s covid-19 lockdown – especially in terms of access to basic goods and food security. 

This release is timely; the Gauteng Township Economic Development Draft Bill aims to prohibit the vast majority of non-citizens from running businesses in ‘designated townships’ in Gauteng. The exclusionary nature of this Draft Bill is of deep concern.

Watch the film here.

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A vital life-line under lockdown

Spaza shops – small grocery stores that stock food and household goods and are often run by non-South Africans – are dotted across the country, including the most remote villages and deep inside ‘informal settlements’. 

This is important, because under the Covid-19 national lockdown, spaza shops provided a vital life-line in terms of providing basic goods to South Africa’s communities. It means that many remote or difficult-to-access areas were assured of access to food during the pandemic, and long distances did not need to be covered to access food and other goods.

Abdullahi Ali Hassan, protagonist of Goods, reflects on this renewed appreciation for spaza shops, which ‘played an important role with regards to the response of food security under lockdown.’ This social importance is reflected in their economic impact, too; South Africa has an estimated annual revenues of R7 billion from “spaza shops”. Hassan points to the direct economic impact (such as employing people in the shop) to indirect impacts, too (such as buying from local suppliers).

Relief and protection

Originally, government relief packages for spaza shops during the Covid-19 national lockdown were denied to non-South Africans. Following advocacy efforts, this relief was opened to any registered spaza shop, regardless of nationality. As of September 2020, 4,626 Spazas or Small + Medium Enterprises had been supported by this fund.

As lockdown set in, some spaza shops were targeted and looted. In some cases, however, South African neighbours physically protected their spaza shops from attack. ‘To see communities come out and saying, let’s not harm our people, our brothers … is actually something that represents South Africa,’ reflects Hassan. ‘It goes back to the issue of Ubutntu. I am because you are.’

Media Enquiries

Lotte Manicom, Advocacy Communications Officer:

Abdullahi Ali Hassan, Co-founder + board-member, Group 50 Investment Trust:

Thanks to

Abdullahi Ali Hassan 

Camera + Edit: Pascale Neuschäfer (Cinematographer, Just Films)

B-Roll Film: Hafeez Floris 

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Migration in South Africa: three issues and three solutions video

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On 29 October 2019, The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town presented to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, along with several other organisations who had been invited to do so. This video outlines the services of Scalabrini – and looks at three issues and three solutions – in the migration sector in South Africa.

Watch the video below

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What is the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town?

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What is the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, and what services does it offer? Find out more in our short video, which explores each program at the centre.

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What is the Angolan Cessation?

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Thousands of refugees fled from Angola to South Africa due to the civil wars. These refugees were typically granted refugee status in South Africa. In 2002, the Angolan conflict ended. In 2013, the South African government cancelled all Angolans’ refugee statuses, as Angola was considered a safe country. Most Angolan former refugees were provided with an Angolan passport and a temporary visa which expired in 2015. Between 2015 and 2018, this group of refugees were in a precarious legal state until, after a court case, they were granted the right to stay in South Africa until 2021. Their future remains unclear. This group of refugees is deeply integrated into South Africa and wishes to remain here. We recommend that the Minister of Home Affairs grant this specific category of former refugees permanent residency in South Africa.

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The asylum system in South Africa: 5 problems and 5 solutions

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The asylum system in South Africa is struggling. Whilst the numbers of asylum applications in South Africa are not higher than other receiving countries (for example, Uganda and Kenya receive many more asylum applications per year), it is common for asylum seekers to spend several years in the asylum system whilst awaiting an outcome on their applications. This is detrimental to both the asylum seeker and the South African state itself. Issues of resources, staff capacity and corruption continue to affect the asylum system negatively. Asylum seekers have limited locations in which they can make application to asylum, and are sometimes provided with an appointment to return and make application for asylum (which renders them undocumented in the interim). The opening of fully functional Refugee Reception Offices that are able and equipped to deal with asylum applicants is key to a functioning asylum system. Further measures, such as extended asylum seeker permits for longer periods of time, would alleviate the pressure and allow officials to concentrate their time on substantial matters such as RSDO decisions.

Administrative bottlenecks in the asylum system are creating problems for the South African state and the asylum seekers themselves. The Refugee Appeal Board, in particular, suffers from a large backlog. Quality decisions made by the Refugee Status Determination Officers, and a Refugee Appeal Board backlog project, including group decisions, are needed to allow the asylum system to flow and ensure fair and speedy decisions on asylum applications.

The improved implementation of the Refugees Act can result in a functioning asylum system. ‘Asylum processing centres’ on the northern borders of South Africa – as envisaged in the White Paper on International Migration – are not required, nor are they they solution.

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How does the asylum system work in South Africa?

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Watch our 40-second video to understand how applying for refugee status in South Africa works.

In South Africa, applications for asylum are lodged at a Refugee Reception Office, which is run by the Department of Home Affairs. Asylum-seekers are interviewed by Refugee Status Determination Officers (RSDO) which make a decision on the asylum claim. This decision can be to grant refugee status, or to reject the asylum claim. There are different ‘types’ of rejection – a manifestly unfounded rejection is automatically reviewed by the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs. An unfounded rejection can be reviewed in the Refugee Appeal Board.

Find out more about the difficulties faced in the South African asylum system, and suggestions to change it, in our video ‘The asylum system in South Africa: 5 problems and 5 solutions’.

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Foreign children in South Africa: 3 problems and 3 solutions

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Non-South African children in South Africa often face difficulties in accessing documentation. This is not in the interests of the child – nor the South African state itself. Children born in South Africa to one or more foreign parents risk not having a birth certificate issued to them – despite the obligation on the South African government to do so. Regulations around birth registration in South Africa require parents to show a valid visa or permit in order to register the birth of their child. Remaining on a valid permit – considering the difficulties faced in the asylum system and the strict requirements of the immigration system – is not as simple as it might seem. We recommend that the Regulations to the Births and Deaths Registration Act be amended to ensure that all children born within South African borders – regardless of their parents' nationality – are given due access to their right to name and nationality in the form of a birth certificate.

Children fleeing to South Africa due to war or conflict in their home countries can face difficulties in accessing the asylum system. We recommend that fully functional Refugee Reception Offices, with adequate resources and staff capacity, to ensure unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are able to make application to asylum in line with the relevant provisions of the Refugees Act.

Children migrating to South Africa for non-refugee reasons (migrant children) face great difficulties in accessing documentation, and are forced into an undocumented state. We recommend that a visa, with accessible and realistic requirements, is developed for migrant children in South Africa. This is in the interests of the child, and the South African state itself.

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