Key court challenge to powers of Minister of Home Affairs stripping South Africans of their citizenship looms

Published: 21/Feb/2023
Source: Daily Maverick (South Africa)

By David Bilchitz and Reuven Ziegler

An apartheid-era relic which allowed the minority white government to strip Bantustan residents and exiled freedom fighters of their South African citizenship is being challenged in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Believe it or not, even in 2023, many South Africans have their citizenship taken away against their will. The Supreme Court of Appeal is about to consider the constitutionality of a provision which authorises this unacceptable denial of one’s birthright. We hope the court holds this outdated provision to be invalid.

Section 6(1)(a) of the Citizenship Act stipulates that a South African citizen is automatically stripped of their citizenship if they acquire the citizenship of another country unless they first seek and receive permission from the Minister of Home Affairs to do so.

Disturbingly, this provision is a relic of the apartheid-era 1949 Citizenship Act. Despite the sham nature of the Bantustan “homelands”, the apartheid government regarded black South Africans as holding the citizenship of another state — that allowed it conveniently to denationalise many of them.

Moreover, many freedom fighters who opposed the apartheid regime had been forced into exile and acquired the citizenship of other countries: this provision enabled the government to strip them of their South African citizenship.

This, in our view, is part of the historical backdrop behind the enactment of a strong citizenship right in the Constitution: section 20 proclaims in no uncertain terms that “no citizen may be deprived of citizenship”.

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Themes: Dual Nationality, Loss and Deprivation of Nationality
Regions: South Africa
Year: 2023