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South Africa’s plans for integrated digital ID advance as cabinet approves dedicated bill

South Africa’s plans for integrated digital ID advance as cabinet approves dedicated bill

The National Identification and Registration Bill 2022, a piece of draft legislation which seeks to introduce a single and integrated biometric national identification system (NIS) for all persons living on South African territory, has been approved by cabinet to be published for comments by members of the public.

Speaking as guest on South African TV channel eNCA on 18 February, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said finishing touches were being made to the bill and that it could be released for comment by midweek.

According to Motsoaledi, the bill is the product of wide consultations with different stakeholders, and seeks among other things to create a single database from the three major databases currently existing in the country.

“At the present moment, we have got three databases for the people who are found within the borders of South Africa. Unfortunately, all of these three databases do not communicate which each other in any way. They are not integrated. So, what the bill seeks to do in this case is to bring up a new system called the National Identification System (NIS),” said Motsoaledi.

The three databases referred to are the national population register, the biometric National Identity System, and the Visa Adjudication System (VAS).

“Anybody who finds themselves within the borders of South Africa, regardless of their citizenship data, must be on that system. It doesn’t change your nationality. It just records you. That way, we would have all records of everyone sojourning or found within the territory of the republic at any one time.”

Other than creating a unified biometric database for all persons found on South African territory regardless of their nationality, the proposed legislation is also suggesting a reduction in the current legal age for obtaining a national ID card in the country.

“The second thing the bill is going to do is that it will change the age at which people are required to acquire their ID document. At the moment, it is 16 years. We want to move it down to 10 years. The rationale is that police at a crime scene look for fingerprints. We have learnt that criminals use young kids who don’t have IDs yet to commit crime, because nobody has got their fingerprints. We want to help the police,” the Minister explained. South African has high incidence of crime.

Another major proposal in the bill, per the Minister, is the move to make a death certificate mandatory for all those who already have an established legal ID. This will require that anyone who dies is issued a death certificate before they are buried.

“There is presently no law that forces anybody to take a death certificate. People take death certificates only when they need them either for insurance or any other purpose. We have realized that in many communities in the East of the country, people bury young children who die and the parents sell their birth certificates to other children of foreigners who end up growing with South African nationality. So the bill seeks to criminalize and prevent anybody from being buried without a death certificate,” said Motsoaledi.

The last major novelty in the bill mentioned by the Home Affairs Minister is to introduce a non-binary system for gender on national ID cards. Currently, the South African ID provides just for the male and female gender options.

“You know that’s not necessarily the case now in real life. We have been ignoring that fact and people who have been affected by it have come out very strongly against it. So the bill is going to provide for a gender-neutral number when it comes to gender,” the Minister explained.

After the public comments, some more inputs would be made to the bill before it is sent to parliament for consideration.

The proposed NIS bill is in line with South Africa’s over-arching Official Identity Management Policy.

The country is also working on making its driver’s licenses adherent to the ISO standard.

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