South Africa DHA defies court order, leaves 700,000 without valid IDs

South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs (DHA), in charge of identity management, has reportedly defied a court order directing it to release blocked identity documents of up to 700,000 citizens, leaving them without valid documentation.

This follows the ruling by a Pretoria High Court on January 16, 2024, that the practice of blocking identity documents was conducted without a fair administrative process and is unjust, unconstitutional, and invalid.
Despite acknowledging the challenges faced by the DHA regarding fraudulent IDs for non-South African citizens, High Court Judge Elmarie van der Schyff said the ID-blocking exercise should have happened after the DHA investigated these incidents, not before or during.

The judge ordered the department to abide by the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (Paja), which includes informing individuals when it makes such a decision.

The DHA didn’t inform the holders of blocked IDs, giving them a rude shock when they were required to submit the documents for various purposes.

Starting in 2012, the DHA commenced a widespread campaign to block the identity numbers of South Africans it deemed “suspicious,” without explanation. Consequently, citizens had their IDs blocked without warning, pending an investigation of their registration status.

Defending its action, the government claimed it implemented ID-blocking as a proactive measure to prevent irregular migration and identity theft resulting from suspiciously processed identity numbers.

This exercise affected around 1.8 million people, including their children. More than 700,000 people are reportedly still directly affected despite the court order which gave the DHA 90 days to comply with the judgement. The deadline expired on Monday, July 1.

Thandeka Chauke, Head of the Statelessness Unit at Lawyers for Human Rights, told a news publication that she didn’t know why the department didn’t comply with the court, given that it had already elapsed.

“What the Paja Act requires of them is to inform people of a decision that has been made against them, especially decisions that have an adverse effect on the person,” she added.

Affected South Africans continue to face various challenges, including opening accounts and renewing passports, among others.

(Techpoint Africa)

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