Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation on 06/10/2023


Section 3 of the Constitution – ranking just after the rule of law and Constitutional supremacy – recognises the right of all citizens to citizenship. Its placement indicates its importance not only for equal entitlement to rights, privileges and benefits of citizenship, but also for the realisation of a “united and democratic South Africa.”

Without an ID, an individual is unable to access essential services and constitutional rights – they cannot vote, apply for a bank account or any form of loan, purchase a vehicle, renew a vehicle and driver’s licences or even obtain a cell phone.

The refusal of Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to unblock 700 000 identity documents (IDs) is an unacceptable infringement of the rights of those involved. According to Minister Motsoaledi, the Department of Home Affairs is busy investigating 813 343 identified cases of blocked identity documents which were either illegal, fraudulent, the supporting documents were falsified or where ID numbers were duplicated.

However, the issue of fraudulent identity has long been an issue in South Africa and in recent years has worsened, despite these efforts. According to a BusinessTech report, “the number of these unverified IDs has grown significantly. Home Affairs estimated that the Department had recorded nearly one million of these cases as of the end of 2020 and is suspected to be well over a million in 2023.”

Section 3(3) of the Constitution mandates that “National legislation must provide for the acquisition, loss and restoration of citizenship.” Without a national register of citizens (National Population Register), this obligation cannot be fulfilled and there cannot be “Universal adult suffrage and a national common voter’s roll…” as prescribed in Section 1.

However, the Minister’s assertion that the reason for not unblocking some 700 000 IDs is that the banks “are likely to lose R17bn” should not override the right of innocent citizens to the many rights that are dependent on the possession of an ID.

According to the Minister, it takes the Department six to eight weeks to resolve and finalise blocked IDs, provided all required supporting documents are furnished. However, even in the Departments own annual Report for 2021/22 it notes “long processing times”. The Report states that “system downtimes and network instability continued to distract provision of services leading to very long queues and unhappy clients.” It estimates that this resulted in “ a production loss exceeding 682 business hours, or 28 business days”, and approximately 200 000 potential applications missed.

The Minister’s assurance that the unblocked IDs could be easily resolved if people visited their nearest home affairs branch and that “the problem is that they do not come to home affairs”, is thus out of touch with the realities of the majority of South Africans who have had to brave a visit to the Department.

Further, according to Lawyers for Human Rights’ Thandeka Chauke, the action taken by the Department is illegal, in that the Identification Act allows “for the cancellation, replacement, or seizure of the physical ID book – not the marking or blocking of the ID number.”

Over a decade since the Department began a campaign to address the issue of misrepresentation on the National Population Register, little progress has been made. The Department must urgently find a way to balance the need for a secure and accurate Register with the rights of affected persons to citizenship. 

Simply put, citizenship must override the potential losses of banks and the administrative burden of a more effective and accessible registration process.