New ID system planned for South Africa

 ·4 Nov 2021

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is working on changes to South Africa’s ID system to better reflect non-binary, intersex and trans persons in the country.

In a presentation on Thursday (4 November), 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.

He cautioned that this was not necessarily an overnight change and would require amendments to existing legislation, including the Identification Act 68 of 1997 before being introduced as its own policy.

Other proposed changes

The department first mooted changes to South Africa’s ID numbers as part of a draft identity management policy published for public comment in January 2021.

Mthiyane said that the department received more than 1,000 submissions around its proposals, with 400 submissions focusing on the ID numbers alone.

Some of the key proposals in the draft identity management policy 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: Major new crime-fighting law planned for South Africa

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