'Why these police up in my face?': All you need to know about Mos Def's 'world passport' woes

Johannesburg: American rapper Mos Def has found out the hard way that a "world passport" isn't accepted in South Africa. He must now appear in court for allegedly breaking South Africa's immigration laws, an official said on Wednesday.

The rapper and actor was charged with using a false identity, using an unrecognised travel document and helping his family stay in the country illegally, Home Affairs Director General Mkuseli Apleni told a press briefing.

Mos Def, also known as Yasiin Bey, is out on bail and must appear in court on 8 March, Apleni said. Born Dante Smith, Mos Def was arrested last week after he tried to leave South Africa using a document he described as a "world passport." Mos Def, who has lived in South Africa since 2013, has entered the country 10 times using a US passport, Apleni said.

In a voice recording published on fellow rapper Kanye West's website, Mos Def said he was being prevented from leaving the country "without any logical reason."

"I committed no crime. Why is the state wasting my time?" Mos Def rapped in the recording, adding, "Why these police up in my face? Why they raiding my place? Why I don’t feel safe? This is not an expression of fear. This is just to make things clear. My intentions are pure in coming here. And that’s for everything I love or hold dear. Homies in the building. So is my wife and my children."

He also denied using fraudulent travel documents.

Mos Def's world passport was issued by the World Service Authority, the administrative branch of the World Government of World Citizens, a Washington D.C.-based organization founded in 1953, according to a statement published on an entertainment website co-founded by Mos Def. The statement said South Africa must recognize the document as a member of the United Nations.

South Africa does not accept the world passport, officials said.


So just what is a world passport?

The world passport is a machine readable travel document that resembles traditional passports issued by most nations of the world. The passports are now administered by a Washington-based non-profit called the World Service Authority.

File image of rapper Mos Def. AP

File image of rapper Mos Def. AP


The authority promotes the concept world citizenship, the idea that a person should find community in all people of the planet as opposed to within a nation state. It also offers marriage certificates, birth cards and other documents typically issued by governments.

What is its history?

In 1948, Garry Davis, a former Broadway actor and a former World War II bomber pilot, renounced his U.S. citizenship and declared himself a "citizen of the world." In 1953 in Ellworth, Maine, Davis declared the founding of the World Government of World Citizens. He later established the authority to be its administration arm. Davis, of South Burlington, died two years ago at 91.

Why would someone get a world passport?

World passports were created in the 1950s by Davis as a way of giving stateless people and refugees access to identification that could be used to cross international boundaries. The authority says the world passport represents the "inalienable human right of freedom of travel on planet Earth."

How many governments recognise the world passport?

It's unclear. The World Service Authority website lists 183 countries that the organization claims have recognized the passports by stamping a visa or exit or entry stamp in them. It also claims a handful of countries have officially recognised the passport. Davis himself was arrested repeatedly for attempting to enter countries without official papers.

How does one get a world passport?

Passport-seekers can fill out applications on the World Service Authority website. A 10-year passport costs $100, plus shipping and handling.


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Updated Date: Jan 21, 2016 13:03:00 IST