South Africa: Minister Malusi Gigaba – Launch of Digitisation of Birth Records

Published: 23/Nov/2016
Source: South Africa Department of Home Affairs

Speech by the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Malusi Gigaba MP at the launch of the digitisation of birth records in Pretoria.

Modernising Home Affairs is the first of the five priorities I have set for the Department during my tenure as Minister.

Modernising the department means using the most modern, innovative technology and management approaches to fulfil our mandate. It means taking inconvenience away from our clients. It means moving from a paper-based department with all the accompanying inefficiencies, slow processes, security risks and opportunities for corruption, to a digital department which is efficient, fast and secure.

South Africans have already seen a glimpse of this modern, digital future, and experienced its benefits, when applying for Smart ID cards and passports in our modernised offices, and through eHomeAffairs.

South Africans were used to waiting months for these documents only a few years ago, and now get them in a few days. Just as the live capture system has revolutionised the process of applying for vital documents, so the digitisation of birth records will revolutionise the National Identity System. This project, in partnerships with Statistics South Africa, is of enormous importance to the country.

Home Affairs has 286 million records, 90% of which are in paper format. Most of these are records of Births, Marriages, Deaths, ID applications, Naturalisation and Permitting and date back to the late 1800. Not only does public administration depend on these records, but they have immense historical value. They include, for example, 110 million birth records, which carry records of generations, and can be used to construct family trees.

Having primarily paper records has become a huge challenge. The space for housing them is scarce and expensive. The time required for staff to physically locate and access individual records for means lead times of weeks and months for many transactions, such as amendments and reprints of older birth and marriage certificates. Paper records are vulnerable to loss, deterioration and fire, despite the care with which we store them. Digitising these records mean we will be able to access records quickly. Transactions which took weeks will be completed for clients on the spot.

An example of this is birth certificates. Beginning in 2014, we started pre-modifying birth records of children with passports, to make it easy for parents to comply with immigration regulations for travelling children. Parents are now able to have birth certificates printed on the spot in most cases. Digital records will enable more efficient business processes. They will be easier and likely cheaper to store. Digital records provides for increased security and auditability of documents.

Some of the key outcomes of this project are:

  • 5.8 million birth records to be digitised per year;
  • Records will be indexed by ID number for easy retrieval;
  • Immediate access to a digitised document irrespective of office location;
  • Electronic records can be viewed / accessed by more than one person simultaneously. This eliminates the reliance on individuals for knowledge as the document is accessible by multiple staff.

This project, is another step in the long term process of digitisation which will allow us to fulfil our mandate. A modern, digital Home Affairs makes four critical contributions to the nation.

DHA enables economic development in several important ways. The NDP envisions an industrialised and knowledge economy, with a high level of economic participation. Our efficient issuing of identity numbers and documents enable citizens to work and conduct business.

Our identity documents provide the platform of trust which underpins our country’s sophisticated financial system, for example, by simplifying ‘know your customer’ (KYC) processes for financial service providers. The fact that our financial services institutions trust our national identity document, is a key factor in their ability to offer sophisticated transactions remotely and online, in contrast to many other developing countries.

Our online fingerprint verification partnership with banks and insurers, through SABRIC, has been successful in combatting fraud and identity theft. The industry recently estimated that this system prevents as much as R322m in losses per month, approximately R3.8bn annually.

DHA contributes to national security.

The NDP stresses the importance of safety, security and good border management. The National Identity System is critical to the nation’s security, as is effective immigration management. Through these two core functions, we aim to be able to positively identify any person in the Republic, if needed.  For these reasons, Cabinet decided in March to fully integrate Home Affairs into the security cluster.

DHA enables the capable state envisioned by the NDP.

The NDP envisions a capable and developmental state, which provides the institutions and infrastructure necessary for the economy and society to operate. To provide effective governance and administration, this capable state must plan proactively, and make intelligent use of technology. The NDP stresses the need for government to have accurate demographic data.

Excellent civil registration, underpinned by universal early birth registration, is a critical tool for government to have accurate, real-time data on the total number of citizens and their age profile. This is of enormous importance to government planning, particularly in areas such as education, health and labour.

E-Governance – for which the Smart ID Card is an important enabler and platform – enables simpler and more convenient interaction between citizens and government.  We would like to see the smart ID card, and eventually also your fingerprint, become the universal passport for interacting with other government departments. It has the capability to carry the driver’s license, verify you as a social grant recipient, help you collect medicine from a clinic, and any number of other applications. Digitised records will be a key enabler of E-Governance.

DHA contributes to nation building and social cohesion.

Our first and primary contribution to nation building and social cohesion is through our custodianship of single citizenship for all South Africans. We ensure that all South Africans have their identity and citizenship status recognised.  We take this for granted, but challenging the citizenship status has been an issue of division which has played a divisive role in presidential elections in both developing and developed countries.

Due to the legacy of Apartheid, the democratic South Africa inherited an appalling, fragmented and manual based system of records management. Only records for whites were properly managed and filed, as opposed to records for persons from other races. The failure to keep proper records created a situation where there was no trace of the birth registration of many black South Africans, and thus their recording in the National Population Register.

Through the digitisation of records, Home Affairs further consolidates our single citizenship, in which every South African’s identity and status is recognised.  Working together with Statistics SA, we are enormously excited at how digitisation of records will enable us to serve South Africans so much more efficiently and securely in the coming years.

I thank you.

Issued by: Department of Home Affairs

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Themes: Identity Documents, Birth Registration
Regions: Southern Africa, South Africa
Year: 2016