The Department of Home Affairs will digitise 286 million records at its disposal through the digitisation project it launched on Wednesday, in partnership with Statistics South Africa.
Birth certificates will be prioritised, followed by other documents.
The digitisation project, converting information into a digital format process, follows close collaboration between the Department of Home Affairs and Statistics South Africa. It signifies a transition from the old systems of record keeping to a modern, efficient and secure storage method.
Speaking at the launch, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said digitising records will make them more easily accessible.
He said modernising the department means using the most modern, innovative technology and management approaches to fulfil the department’s mandate.
“It means taking the inconvenience away from our clients. It means moving from a paper-based department with all the accompanying inefficiencies, slow processes, security risks and opportunities for corruption, to a digital department which is efficient, fast and secure,” he said.
Minister Gigaba said the space for housing documents is scarce and expensive.
“South Africans have already seen a glimpse of this modern, digital future and experienced its benefits when applying for Smart ID cards and passports in modernised offices through eHomeAffairs.
“South Africans were used to waiting months for these documents only a few years ago, and now get them in a few days,” he said.
The Department of Home Affairs has 286 million records, 90% are in paper format.
Most of these are records of births, marriages, deaths, ID applications, naturalisation and permitting and date back to the late 1800. These include 110 million birth records, which carry records of generations that can be used to construct family trees.
“The time required for staff to physically locate and access individual records means lead times of weeks and months for many transactions, such as amendments and reprints of older birth and marriage certificates.
“Paper records are vulnerable to loss, deterioration and fire, despite the care with which we store them. Digitising these records means we will be able to access records quickly,” he said.
5.8 million birth records are to be digitised a year. Records will be indexed by ID number for easy retrieval. They can be accessed immediately, irrespective of office location. Electronic records can be viewed and accessed by more than one person simultaneously, eliminating the reliance on individuals for knowledge as the document is accessible by multiple staff.
Statistician General Dr Pali Lehohla said the project started in 2001.
“It was a very hard decision to take. It is the beginning of digitisation of the State,” he said.