ID blocking “can create nationality crises”

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) has warned that government steps to block duplicate identity numbers could lead to a potential nationality crisis.

Attorney Liesl Muller of the rights watchdog’s Statelessness Project said a blocked identity number equated to someone being deprived of nationality and denied access to basic rights while their status was investigated.

Acting Home Affairs director general Vusumuzi Mkhize earlier this week announced that the department intended declaring duplicate identity documents invalid by the end of October.

Muller, however, said government’s attempts to tidy up the population register had left many South Africans not only unequal, but stateless and without recourse. “Officials routinely block ID numbers upon mere suspicion of the person being a ‘foreigner’.

“Fraudsters and innocents alike are being deprived of nationality until they can prove their identities.

“Due to strict documentary requirements many are unable to prove their heritage. The initiative, in principle praiseworthy, poses a direct threat to the right to nationality,” she said.

Muller said birth registration had been compulsory for all races in urban areas, but voluntary for Africans in rural areas since 1923.

Africans were largely excluded from the population register before 1994 and of those entered
into the system, many were recorded incorrectly.

It was only in 1986 that legislation made provision for all groups to be included.

She said as a result there was little documentary proof of births and identity preceding democracy.

The scramble to put people in the register in the run-up to elections also resulted in chaos with many “dompas” holders automatically being allocated new identity numbers without their knowledge.

“Given our country’s history and poverty, it is unreasonable and racially discriminatory to announce the cancellations and expect all affected persons to be informed and to be able to provide extensive documentary proof of their birth pre-1994,” she said.

Muller said anyone could become a victim of identity blocking and if your number was being used fraudulently, it could be blocked without your knowledge.

“In terms of Section 20 of the Constitution, no citizen may be deprived of citizenship. Home Affairs effectively deprives applicants of nationality through ID blocking.

“This results in the affected person being unable to travel, study, work, marry or even re-gister the birth of their children.

“Given the gravity of the negative effects, it is imperative for the government to respond urgently.

“If preventative steps are not taken, many South Africans may be at risk of statelessness.

“The right to nationality is inextricably linked to the rights to human dignity, equality and freedom,” she said.

Muller said the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act compelled Home Affairs to provide affected persons with written reasons for decisions and to inform them of the remedies available to them.

“If this basic procedure is followed by officials, it will significantly decrease the number of people left in limbo and confusion.

“It will also force officials to conduct proper research and investigations, preventing the arbitrary deprivation of nationality,” Muller said.