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Lawyers for Human Rights turn to court to challenge conduct of Home Affairs to block certain people’s IDs

A woman holds a South African ID book. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

A woman holds a South African ID book. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published Sep 13, 2023

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Pretoria - Lawyers for Human Rights will turn to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria later this month to challenge the conduct of Home Affairs to block certain people’s IDs, leaving them in the cold.

The organisation represents more than 100 clients whose IDs are blocked.

In May 2012, the department initiated a campaign to address the issue of “duplicate IDs” on the National Population Register.

Initially, about 29 000 IDs were identified. The figure escalated to about 500 000 IDs within a year.

The department reported to Parliament that the issues originated during the consolidation of apartheid-era population registers into the National Population Register before the 1994 elections.

The department distinguished between duplicate ID cases (one person sharing an ID number with multiple people) and multiple ID cases (one person assigned multiple ID numbers).

By August 2013, it published a notice of its intention to “invalidate” and “cancel” all unverified duplicate IDs by the end of 2013. The IDs had been blocked on the National Population Register by the time they were advertised.

Lawyers for Human Rights said that the ID blocking practice had become increasingly arbitrary, affecting a growing number of people.

In December 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs revealed that the department had nearly one million cases

In the past five years, Lawyers for Human Rights has assisted more than 500 people – most marginalised, black South Africans. It said none of them was aware of their blocked IDs until they tried to access another service.

Lawyers for Human Rights’s Thandeka Chauke said the criteria for blocking IDs appeared to be based on subjective and discriminatory facts, such as the shape of inoculation marks, record of frequent cross-border travel, alleged deportation records, inability to speak a specific local language, bearing a “foreign-sounding” name, or having a parent or spouse of foreign nationality.

None of them was given an opportunity to make representations before the ID was blocked or before the finalisation of the investigation.

The department said ID blocking was an “administrative tool” used to maintain the accuracy and integrity of the National Population Register. The block occurred when a marker was placed against an ID number, either indicating it was tainted by an administrative or clerical error, or suspected fraud or misrepresentation.

Affected people were required to provide extensive documentary evidence of their citizenship or entitlement to the ID in question.

“This is confirmed by the SA Human Rights Commission in a 2018 report condemning the practice. It is unconstitutional, unlawful, and infringes on numerous human rights, including the right to citizenship; the right to just administrative action; and the right to human dignity,” it said.

Pretoria News