New ID numbers for South Africa — significant changes proposed

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) published its Draft Official Identity Management Policy on 22 December 2020, which aims to introduce a new ID system in South Africa. Many activists are now calling for a random ID number without any personal information contained in it.

The DHA said the new ID system is needed as the current Identification Act is over 20 years old and do not align with constitutional principles of equality, non-discrimination, and human dignity.

The new system also wants to incorporate key local and global developments in managing official personal information.

The department made a few recommendations, which include:

  • Records of persons throughout their lifespan, where the biometrics of children must be captured at birth.
  • ID numbers based on parents, where the identity number of a child is linked to their parents’ identity numbers and mother’s biometric data.
  • Re-registration, where children must be re-registered when they reach age five with ten fingerprints and iris and facial photographs.
  • Recognition of other gender categories by establishing a category that is neither male nor female.

The proposed changes to South Africa’s ID numbers to cater for non-binary genders gained a lot of attention.

Current South African ID numbers identify a person’s gender in the seventh digit. If the number is between 0 and 4, it means female, while a number between 5 and 9 means male.

The image below shows what the current digits in South African ID numbers mean.

Proposed changes to South Africa’s ID numbers include a digit that caters for transgender people and using a random number that is not linked to gender.

There are now calls to create random ID numbers which contain no personal information like date of birth, gender, or citizenship. Such a change, gender activists argue, will accommodate transgender, non-binary, and intersex people.

“The possibility of randomised ID numbers, where gender is not coded, means everyone can have a neutral ID number without having to worry about being outed,” said Iranti programmes specialist Sibusiso Kheswa.

Gender Dynamix (GDX) supports randomised ID numbers with no data encoded into the ID number.

“Random numbers protect the individual’s personal information and can remain with the person for life, irrespective of whether or not their particulars change over time,” said Zoey Black, legal and education advocacy officer at GDX.

Many activist groups oppose the plan to introduce a third gender group, in addition to male or female, as it may add to the stigma associated with non-binary people.

“If you are talking about a third gender, you are creating a new group, and we know South Africans are not open to sexual and gender diversity,” said Kheswa.

They added that male and female identification should be removed from smart ID cards to create a gender agnostic ID system.

The Draft Official Identity Management Policy is embedded below.

Draft Official Identity Management Policy

Now read: Why your bank branch doesn’t do Smart IDs

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New ID numbers for South Africa — significant changes proposed