By Bronwyn Gerretsen
Ebrahim Samsodien is 40 years old and has had his identity number since the age of 16.
He even still has his very first ID.
But that all means nothing because he is faced with the enormous task of changing all financial and legal aspects of his life because, according to the Department of Home Affairs, someone else is holding his ID number and, for that reason, he may be forced to relinquish it to this person.
Even his marriage certificate shows a blank space where his ID number should be.
"This means changing my whole life . . . I have to start like a newborn baby. I have a house, vehicle and bank accounts, I am a businessman. And what about my children? Their birth certificates will also have to be changed as well," he said.
According to Home Affairs spokesperson Siobhan McCarthy, although the process of having his ID number changed and subsequently all documentation relating to his life, it may be "the lesser of two evils".
Samsodien and his wife, Nasrin, are awaiting the arrival of their fifth child any day now, and so the couple went to Home Affairs two weeks ago to get a copy of their marriage certificate so they could register their baby's birth.
However, he was told that someone else's name was registered under his ID number.
"They wouldn't tell me whose name was on the screen.
"Surely, I have a right to know who is using my number and whether they're in Cape Town or Durban, for example. They (Home Affairs) said they wanted my birth certificate and that I had to go back to my primary school to get a copy of the original.
"I even went for fingerprints so that they (Home Affairs officials) can see that it is me," Samsodien said.
But all appeared to be in vain as he was told to reapply for his bar-coded ID and be issued with a new ID number.
"I had a heart attack last year and this is just causing me more stress."
McCarthy said Home Affairs would not be able to establish whether another person was given Samsodien's ID number in error or fraudulently and only if they found the other person could an investigation be instituted.
"Unless that other person comes to Home Affairs to apply for another document we don't know who or where he is. Yes, we will have his name but we don't know where to find him," she said.
If Samsodien opted to reapply for an ID number, McCarthy said the department would issue him with a letter for the banks and his employers stating that his ID number had been changed.
"It is a big pain, but it is the lesser of two evils... We have no idea what the other guy is doing with that number. He could be running up credit or getting a criminal record. The only way we can investigate how both parties came to have the same number is if we know both of them... We can't treat the other person like a criminal," said McCarthy.
She said Samsodien's only other option was to wait a few months and see if the other person came into Home Affairs for any other documentation. The department could flag his ID number and then wait for him to approach it. But there was no saying how long this would take, she said.
Samsodien indicated that while he would be prepared to wait and see if Home Affairs could cite the other person, he was concerned if this did not materialise.
"I don't know which is the best option. I just don't know what to do," he said.