Dr Pali Lehohla, the former Statistician-General of South Africa, pays tribute to a court judgment by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng that helped the address problem, which is still not solved. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi
Dr Pali Lehohla, the former Statistician-General of South Africa, pays tribute to a court judgment by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng that helped the address problem, which is still not solved. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

OPINION:: SA's lack of physical addresses amid Covid-19 a problem

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Mar 26, 2020

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Pretoria -  Many South African's do not have a physical address, which makes the coronavirus crisis difficult to manage. 

Coronavirus requires details of the population and where they stay. The virus is driven by mobility across space and the individuals are traceable only in relation to their places of abode. 

On June 2016 the seminal judgment on physical addresses for purposes of undertaking a fair and free election by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was very important. 
It sent the government in an overdrive frenzy of attempting to provide addresses by October 2018.


Unfortunately, to date a significant proportion of South Africans still do not have a physical address against which they can attach to their voters roll. 

What is the relevance of physical addresses in the context of the coronavirus pandemic?

The Chief Justice had not only understood the importance of what I call “The Know Me Systems” in the context of the right to choice, but had embedded their essence as inalienable in the implementation of democracy. 

By implementation of democracy I understand the judicious distribution of and unhindered access to services by society across space and time. 

What characterizes a democratic state? It is one where each citizen has a voice that accesses fellow citizens and authority equitably. 

The basic assumption to gain access resides in the following fundamental systems being in place and functioning properly. First, all citizens must be known to the state that they exist and or once existed in the event that they died.

Second, their place of abode must have a distinct identifier that enables the citizen and the state to know that both exist. 

Third, there must be an infrastructure that enables the tracking and tracing of movement of individual citizens. 

Fourth, all these have to happen under strict observance of the fundamental protocols and principles that observe human rights. What are these Know Me Systems and what is their status in South Africa? 

The first is the South African 13 Digit ID system which South Africa can pride itself of its existence. 

It is a fundamental backbone that eases functional reciprocity in the people to people, people to government and business to government interface. 

Without this fundamental electronically linked instrument, called the ID, a citizen in South Africa cannot easily function. 

The South African state through an extensive infrastructure of civil registration, especially at birth, has achieved a remarkable coverage record in the past number of years. 

The human rights (right to education) and poverty reduction (access to shelter and social grants) programmes served as important incentives to achieving a near universal coverage in for instance registering the occurrence of birth as close to the date of birth as possible.

The second system is the physical address system. This is in dismal shape and little wonder it attracted severe tongue lashing from the Chief Justice. 
Less than half of the dwellings in South Africa have dwellings with addresses. 

The third condition, which relates to the infrastructure of course cannot apply because addresses are a weak link. 

Thanks to the foresighted judgement of CJ Mogoeng that when ignored yields not only bad outcomes for democracy, but is detrimental to other pillars of democracy. 

In times of pandemics we learn the difficult lesson.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and former Head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at www.pie.org.za and @palilj01  

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