South Africa

South Africa is getting a new ID system – what you should know

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet has approved a new Identity Management Policy for South Africa.

This policy will replace the current Identification Act of 1997, which establishes the National Population Register (NPR) and also specify its scope in the mandatory records that are captured on it, cabinet said in a statement on Friday (25 March).

“The adopted policy proposes a single digital NPR of all people – irrespective of citizenship and sex status – who live and have lived in the country. It also provides for a biometric National Identity System (NIS) that will enable a single view of a person. The NIS will also be able to interface with other government and private sector identity systems.

“The policy will also ensure the protection of the rights of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer and Asexual community,” cabinet said.

New ID numbers?

While the new policy has not officially been gazetted, the Department of Home Affairs has previously indicated that it plans to make changes to South Africa’s ID system to better reflect non-binary, intersex and trans persons in the country.

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In a presentation to parliament in November 2021, the department’s chief information officer, Sihle Mthiyane, said that this would include proposed changes to ID numbers in South Africa, and references to a person’s gender.

Under the current system, a South African ID number is a 13-digit number defined by the following format: YYMMDDSSSSCAZ.

  • The first six digits (YYMMDD) are based on your date of birth. 20 February 1992 is displayed as 920220.
  • The next four digits (SSSS) are used to define your gender. Females are assigned numbers in the range 0000-4999 and males from 5000-9999.
  • The next digit (C) shows if you’re an SA citizen status, with 0 denoting that you were born a South African citizen and one denoting that you’re a permanent resident.
  • The next digit (A) was used until the late 1980s to indicate a person’s race. This has been eliminated and old ID numbers were reissued to remove this.
  • The last digit (Z) is a checksum used to check that the number sequence is accurate using the Luhn algorithm’s set formula.

While it was important to keep certain parts of this system in place – notably those relating to residency, age and security – Mthiyane said that the department was looking at proposals to change the ID format around gender.

“The numbers on the ID are binary in nature, assuming South Africans are either male or female. Which is unfair, exclusionary and unconstitutional,” he said. “We held a dialogue with the LGBTQIA+ community, who advised that the future of ID numbers should not be limiting.”

Mthiyane said that the proposal could also see a gender-neutral ID number introduced which was not male or female. This could also be available at birth to avoid issues relating to intersex persons, he said.

Another option could see a random unique identity number introduced that is not linked to or founded on a person’s sex/gender, date of birth, place of birth or any other marker.

Other changes which have previously been mooted by the department include:

  • Records of persons throughout their lifespan – Every birth that takes place in the country, irrespective of the status of the parents, must be registered. If technology and medical conventions allow, 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.
  • ID numbers based on parents – The identity number of a child must be processed based on biographic information and linked to their parents’ identity numbers and mother’s biometric data.
  • Re-registration – When possible, the biometrics of a child must be collected at birth. A facial photograph must be taken for manual identification when needed. 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.

Read: Good news for driving licence renewals in South Africa

Artmotion S.Africa

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