Cape Town - 18-year-old top matriculant and valedictorian at Garden’s Commercial in Cape Town, Ester Estelle Nkulu, is pleading for help with proper legal documentation to help her fund her university studies.
Nkulu has been struggling to secure bursaries and scholarships, despite her impressive academic results, scoring an excellent 76.7% over-all average on her final matric results, because of her legal status as an asylum seeker in the country.
Despite having lived in South Africa for more than 12 years, Nkulu and her family have not had their legal documentation changed from the asylum seeker permit to a refugee permit, making it harder for her to secure funding.
Nkulu fled the conflict-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with her family, at the tender age of six and settled in Philippi, Cape Town.
Nkulu and her mother, Kisinda Kaseya, now residents of Salt River in Cape Town, detail their struggles settling into their new country 12 years ago as asylum seekers.
They say they have faced many challenges, from experiencing homelessness and the xenophobia that came with being a foreign national in a South African township, where daily threats were made to their lives and livelihoods.
“It has been difficult for the children to develop their lives because of the asylum seeker permit. It is like we are blocked from living a decent life in the country. We have had the asylum seeker permit for 12 years, which we all have to renew every six months at home affairs, two times a year,” Kaseya said.
Nkulu and her mother say that they have been pleading for years with Department of Home Affairs officials to change their legal status from asylum seekers to refugee status in the country.
“We do not know what the problem is, and we do not understand the processes fully. We have also spoken to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in South Africa and home affairs, to no avail. It is now difficult for my child to even register for university because of a lack of funding, as bursaries require us to have refugee status.
“My daughter does really well at school, but now for her to further her education, we need proper refugee papers,” she added.
Nkulu, who has been accepted at the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University for actuarial sciences and economic sciences, says she dreams of being an economic policymaker in Africa.
“I want to be an economic policymaker in Africa and transform many laws in Africa, because right now I am an African being treated like an outsider in an African country. And I see so many young people whose dreams are broken because of restrictions with documentation and finances.
“I just want every young person in Africa to get the quality education they deserve,” she said.
Nkulu, a head prefect and a student representative council (SRC) member at her school, says that she spends a lot of her after school hours working with local outreach programmes in her community.
“I was the chairperson of the Nomzamo Girl’s Club, which brings awareness to challenges the girl child faces. I am currently the president of the African Youth Congress, an NGO that focuses on youth participation in policy making,” she said.