Minister of Home Affairs Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma casting her special vote at Newlands Clinic, Cape Town.

People applying for ID books will soon be getting smart ID cards instead.

Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, her deputy Fatima Chohan and department officials showed off theirs on Wednesday, and demonstrated how the new system will work.

Delivering her budget vote speech in Parliament later, Dlamini-Zuma welcomed the transition from apartheid’s hated dompas to the smart card.

The system “reads” a person’s thumbprint with an electronic scanner and instantly compares it with information stored in the Home Affairs database – quickly alerting officials to fraudsters or those with stolen cards.

A pilot project, where smart cards would be given to people applying for their first IDs, or those whose ID books had been lost or stolen, would probably start in about six months, Dlamini-Zuma said.

This first phase would cost about R5 million, but it would cost much more to replace every citizen’s ID book with a smart card as special machines needed to be made. This would take about 18 months and she envisaged that the general rollout would start in about two years’ time.

To be operated by the Government Printing Works, the machines would be able to manufacture other cards, including driving licences.

It was up to other government departments to decide what they required: “We are ready,” said Dlamini-Zuma.

Unlike the barcoded ID books currently in use, the smart cards will not be easy to forge.

The minister said that while the pilot would allow for “hiccups and technical issues” to be resolved, the department was already “very happy” with the card. “This will be a card that nobody will be able to forge. If they try, we will be able to distinguish between the forged and real card,” she said.

The card is a key element of the national identity system that is under construction, which will replace the separate systems used to manage civic and immigration data. Biometric and biographical details of South Africans – and foreign nationals – will be digitally captured and stored in a single integrated system linked to others governing movement control, permits and the management of asylum seekers and refugees.

The cards will be produced and delivered in far less time than it currently takes for ID books to be issued, “and the costs will be about the same”. - Political Bureau