Does South Africa Consider The ‘World Passport’ Legit? Rapper Mos Def Finds Out The Hard Way

Yasiin Bey, known better by his former stage name Mos Def, was arrested in South Africa on January 14 for allegedly attempting to travel with a fake passport, BusinessInsider reported.

Bey — real name: Dante Terrel Smith — was detained at the Cape Town airport for immigration violations after presenting something called a “world passport,” which Bey believes is a valid travel document, but South African immigration authorities do not recognize.

Bey, who has lived in Cape Town since 2013, was arrested released on US$300 bail, according to SkyNews. He is due to appear in court on March 8.

He said the world passport he was traveling with is valid and that the South African government is wrongly accusing him of using fake documents.

“Anyone can do the research about the ‘world passport’; it’s not a fictitious document,” he said. “It is not meant to deceive or derive unlawful benefit from any nation state, at all.”

South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs said Bey entered the country with a legitimate U.S. passport in November and had a visitor’s visa valid until February. At the time he was arrested he was attempting to travel to Ethiopia using the world passport.

What Is A World Passport?

The World Passport is a non-governmental document that was first introduced by Garry Davis, a resident of South Burlington, Vermont, U.S., in the 1950s,  BurlingtonFreePress reported.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Davis believed the world passport was supported by the 30 articles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One article in particular summed it all up for him, BurlingtonFreePress reported: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

He was motivated to create the passport because he believed refugees and people without a country should have access to identification so they could travel across national boundaries.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and intelligence leaker Edward Snowden also have world passports that are not officially recognized, SkyNews reported.


South African airport officials made a big mistake not recognizing Bey’s world passport, said David Gallup, an attorney who heads the World Service Authority, issuers of the world passport.

“We issued him one of our passports a month or so ago,” Gallup said. “South Africa has recognized world passports many times previously,” Gallup said. “I’ve been in touch with (Bey’s) New York lawyer.”

Davis died two years ago at age 91, leaving behind an enduring legacy, according to the Burlington Free Press.

Robin Lloyd, a Burlington peace activist and longtime friend of the late Davis, said, “It’s wonderful to know that Garry’s vision of a world without borders lives on.”

Lloyd offered this advice to world citizens, Mos Def and anyone who applied for a world passport: “You have to use this passport ‘to claim your human rights.’”

Davis’s legacy may never have received as much publicity as it’s now getting, were it not for Bey.

What’s Next For Mos Def?


Bey, 42, said the South African government is preventing him from fulfilling his “professional obligations unnecessarily.” He called for people to boycott South Africa, SkyNews reported.

He said he is “being prevented from leaving, unjustly, unlawfully, and without any logical reason.”

“I’ve committed no crime. Why’s the state wasting my time … Where I live is my choice … I just wanna go where I’m wanted … A country called Earth, everywhere,” he said in a recorded message on rapper Kanye West’s website.

He added: “Anyone can do the research about the world passport. It is not a fictitious document. It has been accepted here on many occasions.”

On Kanye West’s website Bey did a freestyle rap, “No More Parties in S.A.,” inspired by West and Kendrick Lamar’s “No More Parties in L.A.”

Bey entered South Africa 10 times using a U.S. passport between 2013 and last week. Each time, he was granted a 90-day tourist visa.

At the time of his arrest, immigration officers said his wife and minor child had overstayed their visit to South Africa, and they have been ordered to leave the country.

Bey is an internationally renowned rapper and former resident of Brooklyn, New York. His career has included songwriting, recording for various labels, performing solo and with others, and an acting stint on the Showtime series “Dexter.”

Bey said he’s “retiring from the music recording industry as it is currently assembled today, and also from Hollywood, effective immediately,” though he said that decision was not directly related to his detainment in South Africa. He said he will release a final album this year, BusinessInsider reported.

A version of this article originally appeared on

Want to discover the finer side of Africa? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Leave a Comment