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Bad news about South Africa’s green ID books



The Department of Home Affairs is years behind on its plan to completely replace green ID books with smart ID cards.

That means that South Africans who have not adopted the new ID card will likely be able to continue using their ID books for many years to come.

While Home Affairs’ initial plans were to phase out the old IDs between 2018 and 2022, the pace of smart ID card adoption has been insufficient to meet that timeline.

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) first introduced the smart ID card in July 2013 as a replacement for the green ID book.

The smart ID card features a host of benefits over the booklet-style IDs, including:

  • A microchip that securely stores a citizen’s data, including biometric information like a photograph of their face and their fingerprints.
  • A “match on card” feature that enables verifying biometrics with the microchip itself without connection to a central database, enhancing citizen’s privacy.
  • Various visual features on the card to prevent forgery
  • Polycarbonate ID card body that is durable and designed to stand the test of time

In 2013, the Department of Home Affairs said the plan was to phase out the old green ID books within five to seven years.

It estimated there were around 38 million South African ID holders at the time.

It later revised the estimated phase-out to take eight years from 2014, putting the final date for the issuing of green ID books in 2022.

When a person gets their smart ID card, the DHA retains their ID booklet for cancellation. In that instance, a green ID book is automatically phased out.

In 2017, the DHA assured that an expiry date for green ID books would only be announced once all its branches had smart enrollment equipment for faster ID card applications.

“We wish to make it clear that the green barcoded ID book remains a legal form of identification and will continue to be until such time that the Live Capture System is rolled out to all Home Affairs offices to enable South Africans to apply for Smart ID cards at their nearest offices,” the DHA said at the time.

As of June 2024, The DHA had rolled out the live capturing system to 202 of its offices.

By 2019, a year after the first estimated year for phasing out the ID books, only 13 million smart ID cards had been issued.

The department recently revealed this had increased to just 21 million by December 2023. That makes up just about 55.3% of the original 38 ID books estimated to be in circulation.

However, many of those in the 21 million would have been South Africans who never had an ID document, including citizens who turned 16.

Those who used a DHA branch that did not yet support smart ID cards would have received a booklet instead.

Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi recently said the DHA was on track to achieve its annual target of 2.5 million ID cards in the 2023/2024 financial year.

At that rate, it would take another seven years to issue 17 million more ID cards and reach the original target, not accounting for any first-time ID applicants.

Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Home Affairs

One of the issues that could be slowing down the smart ID card rollout is the repeated delays in finalising agreements between the DHA and banks to expand smart ID card applications to more bank branches.

This service, available at 30 bank branches in the country, has proven to be particularly convenient. Since the pilot programme launched in 2016, more than 665,000 people have obtained their smart IDs from a bank branch.

The service is supported by an online appointment and payment system on eHomeAffairs.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has also taken issue with the DHA not offering smart ID cards to naturalised citizens and called for the Public Protector to investigate the issue.

Since 2013, Homa Affairs has only made the new cards available to natural-born citizens.

The DA’s Angel Khanyile explained that most DHA offices are now only able to issue smart ID cards and have discontinued the production of the green ID book.

“This means that, should a naturalised citizen wish to obtain a green ID book (since it is the only format of ID that they can acquire), they are forced to travel long distances to the few DHA offices that still print the green ID book,” Khanyile said.

“This is a serious inconvenience and an infringement on the rights of individuals who are South African citizens in every aspect of our citizenship laws. The DHA is guilty of reducing naturalised individuals to second-class citizens.”

The DHA has also reported significant delays in smart ID card applicants collecting their documents.

At one point in October 2023, roughly half a million smart ID cards had piled up at DHA offices across the country.


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