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Identity is key to socio-economic inclusion


Civil registration is important because it enables citizens to have a sense of belonging and to access services while helping government accurately plan for service delivery.

This is according to the new Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, whose department is responsible for registering people shortly after they are born (birth certificate), when they travel (passport), when they get married (marriage certificate) and when they pass on (death certificate).

He explained that civil registration and the statistics of the country go together to measure the amount of work a country still needs to do.

“We have a monopoly in the services we provide because no other institution does what we do. Hence, we have to do them with diligence,” said Minister Motsoaledi.

“For example, we issue documents that enable citizens to access social grants and education, open bank accounts and purchase homes and cars. Others use these documents to open businesses. Quite clearly, these documents have a huge impact on the socio-economic inclusion of our people,” said Minister Motsoaledi.

He was speaking at the fifth annual meeting of the ID4Africa Movement held recently.

The minister said the department has already registered over 85 percent of South Africa’s estimated 57 million people.

In order to include the remaining 15 percent, the department has launched its Late Registration of Birth programme, which caters for people who were not registered within 30 days of birth.

Those who were not registered need to visit the department’s offices, where the process and requirements for each individual will be explained.

“In the main, you need to come with a parent or a relative who is documented, a letter from your traditional leader or local councillor outlining that they know you and you are who you say you are. Those who attended school must supply a copy of the record which shows the year in which they were registered,” he explained.

He said it is quite alarming that in this era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution there are still citizens who are born, get married and die without ever being recorded anywhere.

“In essence, it means unregistered people never existed. It is mindboggling to imagine how people go about their everyday lives and receive essential services that each citizen of each county is entitled to without proper registration,” he said.

He said having unregistered citizens in the country makes it difficult for government to deliver services because those who are not registered enjoy the services that were meant for registered citizens, and that means many people who were supposed to get services end up not getting them.

“Our prime statistics institution, Statistics South Africa, always reminds us that what gets measured, gets done,” he said.

Contributing to economic growth

One of the priorities of the current administration, which was elected in May, is the creation of jobs.

In line with this, the department is tasked with modernising visa requirements to attract highly skilled foreign nationals.

The minister said South Africa always welcomes the safe and orderly migration of people.

He cited the National Development Plan (NDP) that talks about the contribution a relatively unrestricted movement of labour across the region and the continent can make in building an inclusive economy.

“This, in part, is a recognition of the important role that migrants have played in our economic development and regional integration since the late 19th century,” he said.

“We are determined to ensure that we play our part in growing the economy to increase the state’s capacity to fight poverty, inequality and underdevelopment. While we are doing this, we are mindful of the need to ensure that we register and document everyone who is in the country and to know for what purposes they are here,” he added.

He said the department has to continuously evolve to meet the changing needs of citizens. It is embarking on a modernisation programme that includes looking at what services can be delivered online, he explained.

Reflecting on 25 years of democracy

The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor – who once served as Home Affairs minister – also spoke at the meeting about the progress that South Africa has made with regard to civil registration and vital statistics.

“South Africa is among the many countries on the continent hard at work to develop integrated, secure, digital identification systems,” she said.

Minister Pandor said it has not been an easy road for South Africa to travel. This work started in earnest after the dawn of democracy in 1994.

“We had inherited a fragmented civil registration system, largely predicated on a divisive race discourse. It was a discriminatory system designed to systematically deny Africans citizenship. Only 4.5 million white people in the country had enjoyed access to acceptable levels of civic services,” she explained.

“At the inception of democracy, our immediate task was to forge a common, non-racial and non-sexist national identity in an endeavour to deconstruct the civic divisions and inequalities of our colonial and apartheid past.

“Accordingly, as one of the landmarks of the democratic era and its transformation agenda, we introduced a common, compulsory identity document for all citizens, irrespective of race, and established a single national Department of Home Affairs,” she added.

As such, the ID, popularly known as the green barcoded ID book of 1986, was also issued to the African majority, a right previously denied to Africans in the former apartheid-designed homelands.

In this manner, government succeeded in providing a common ID for all citizens and officially opened doors for citizens to exercise their rights and to access services, including registering births, accessing social grants, opening bank accounts, seeking employment, voting and enrolling at school.

“Over the years, we have learnt that the full value of data from civil registries comes when they are properly integrated within government systems – for example, with the statistical institutions, population registers, national ID systems and voter registration systems,” said Minister Pandor.

She said when the birth of a South African is registered, the child’s name and birth date are linked to an identity number and a record is created on the National Population Register. This gives the child an identity as a citizen, with all the constitutional rights and obligations that accompany this status.

The law demands that parents register their new-born babies within 30 days of birth. Once a child has a birth certificate, he or she can be issued with a passport and can enjoy access to services offered by other government departments, like health and education.

Home Affairs has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Health, with the sole purpose of ensuring births at health facilities are registered.

About 391 health facilities in public hospitals have been connected so far, and this allows mothers who give birth in these facilities to register their children and receive birth certificates before going home.

As outlined in the country’s NDP, South Africa is expected to have registered 90 percent of births by 2030 and 100 percent by 2063. In the 2018/2019 financial year, the country had registered 85.7 percent of births.

Over and above this, the department is starting to automate the registration of births, marriages and deaths. It also prints the names of parents in their children’s passports, for ease of travel.

Smart ID card, eHomeAffairs

In July 2013, the green ID book was replaced with a new smart ID card, and government has been encouraging South Africans to apply to get one.

Minister Pandor said the replacement of the green ID book was motivated by security purposes.

“The green ID book was manual, paper-based and open to manipulation but the smart ID card is very secure because it has a readable and verifiable card-chip and embedded biographic data.

“More than 13 million smart ID cards have been issued in the quest to replace about 38 million green barcoded ID books. The smart ID card is an end-to-end process which is wholly automated. It is supported by a live capture system,” the Minister explained.

Of the 412 Home Affairs offices in the country, 193 are modernised and can thus process the new smart ID cards and machine-readable passports.

The Minister said this highlights how digital transformation has the potential to open new pathways towards smarter platforms and new ways of service delivery.

The department has also launched an electronic platform called eHomeAffairs, through which citizens can now apply for new smart ID cards and passports online, from the comfort of their homes or offices, by simply visiting the department’s website.

This was made possible by the department’s ongoing partnership with four major commercial banks in South Africa – ABSA, First National Bank, Nedbank and Standard Bank.

The ID4Africa Movement, which was hosted by the Department of Home Affairs in Ekurhuleni, provided an opportunity for African countries to share their experiences and best practices in resolving civil registration challenges.

The gathering attracted over 1 500 delegates from 95 countries, including 50 African nations and over 650 decision-makers from a cross-section of government stakeholders.

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