South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa that provides, in its 1996 Constitution, for every child to have the right to a nationality. South African citizenship is governed at the statutory level by the South Africa Citizenship Act No. 88 of 1995, as amended most recently in 2010.
The law provides for mothers and fathers to have equal rights to transmit citizenship to their children and spouses. The law also provides that a child born in South Africa is a South African citizen by birth if “he or she does not have the citizenship or nationality of any other country, or has no right to such citizenship or nationality” and the birth is registered in accordance with the Births and Deaths Registration Act. The law does not, however, include a presumption of citizenship for children of unknown parents found on the territory.
Until 2010, the law provided for citizenship to be attributed at birth to the children of permanent residents born in South Africa; since 2010, the law only provides for a child born in South Africa to be able to acquire citizenship at majority, subject to certain conditions, including registration of birth.
In practice, children born in South Africa who do not acquire the nationality of one of their parents at birth have struggled to obtain South African citizenship. In other cases, South African parents who lack identity documents may be unable to register the births of their children, putting those children at risk of being unable to assert their citizenship.