New ID numbers for South Africa planned

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has published a new draft official identity management policy which aims to introduce a new ID system in South Africa.

The DHA said that the current Identification Act is outdated and does not consider key developments in managing official personal information.

“The current legislation and systems are outdated, fragmented and do not fully align with constitutional principles of equality, non-discrimination, and human dignity,” it said.

In addition to outdated legislation, the department said issues with crime and corruption has led to the theft of identities in South Africa.

“It is currently possible for anyone who has not applied for an ID to successfully claim and use the identity of another person who has also not applied for an ID,” the DHA said.

This is possible because the biometrics of South African children are not captured after birth. There is currently no way to reliably verify a child who presents a birth certificate as proof of identity during interactions with the department.

“Any child can lay claim to the identity of another child and such instances have been recorded,” the DHA said.

To address these and other problems, the DHA’s draft identity management policy makes the following recommendations:

  • ID numbers based on parents – The identity number of a child must be processed on the basis of biographic information and linked to their parents’ identity numbers and mother’s biometric data.
  • Recognition of other sex/gender categories – The new legislation and population register must make a provision that enables the establishment of a category that is neither male nor female.
  • Random unique identity number – Another option is to issue a random unique identity number that is not linked to or founded on a person’s sex/gender, date of birth, place of birth or any other marker.
  • Records of persons throughout their lifespan – Every birth that takes place in the country must be registered. If possible, the biometrics of children must be captured at birth. Where impossible, the biometrics of a parent must be linked to the birth certificate of a child.
  • Re-registration – Children must be reregistered when they reach age five with ten fingerprints and iris and facial photographs. A combination of different biometric data for children should be considered with options such as the photograph of the ear.

Public consultation process

Department of Home Affairs Director General Tommy Makhode said a lot of their focus is to improve security around South Africa’s ID system.

“There has been a lot of challenges around identity theft and there is a need for us to embrace new technologies to security South African IDs,” he said.

He said most existing ID numbers are unlikely to be impacted by the proposed changes.

Makhode said the draft identity management policy is currently open for public consultation, which will close on 28 February 2021.

He said decisions on the new ID system will be guided by feedback from the public consultation process.

“We hope by the end of the year we will get the implementation of the new ID system off the ground,” he said.

Tommy Makhode interview

Draft Official Identity Management Policy

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New ID numbers for South Africa planned