Friends help in fight for SA citizenship

David Macgregor

A CHANCE meeting between a cash-strapped Russian-born waiter and an elderly Dutch tourist in a Port Alfred restaurant four years ago has changed both men’s lives forever.

The story of gifted 22-year-old Pavel “Paul” Sebeikin’s fight for permanent residency in South Africa struck such a chord with philanthropist Jan Brummans that he hired attorneys to sort out the mess.

After spending two frustrating years battling Home Affairs ineptitude and red tape, Sebeikin’s legal team challenged Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the Grahamstown High Court – and she backed down.

On Wednesday night, a handful of close friends threw a surprise party for the startled waiter at the Royal St Andrews Lodge, where he has worked and lived since he matriculated with four distinctions in 2008.

The youngster appeared at a loss for words when attorney Ivan Schäfer said that after 17 years living illegally in South Africa, Paul finally had a place to call home.

The Home Affairs decision on Wednesday comes several months after Sebeikin’s 18-year-old sister Mary was awarded her permanent residency shortly after the Legal Resources Centre took up her case.

According to Sebeikin, his life had been put on hold for the past four years while he tried to get permanent residency paperwork and an identity book that would allow him to open a bank account and realise his dreams of studying computer software development at Rhodes University.

Since 2008, phone calls, e-mails, repeated resubmission of the applications and threats of legal action against Home Affairs fell on deaf ears, leaving Sebeikin and his legal team with little option but to ask the high court to order the minister to consider their applications and grant them permanent residency.

He was Port Alfred High School’s dux scholar in matric in 2008, finishing the year with four distinctions, and was accepted to study at Rhodes but because he was effectively stateless, he had to work illegally as a waiter instead.

“I am really looking forward to studying at Rhodes and I hope to get a bursary.”

Sebeikin came to South Africa with his mother, Nina, and a two-year-old sister in 1995 when he was five. They never returned to Russia and can no longer speak the language.

Schäfer, glad the battle was over, said Sebeikin had shown extraordinary courage and an indomitable determination.

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