South Africa

Wrong ID number and Home Affairs? Glacial pace, redefined.

By Mandy De Waal 13 August 2012

In a remote village in Limpopo called Basterspad, lives 62-year-old George Ngobeni, who has a family to support and should have been able to draw a pension for the last two years, But his ID documentation is incorrect, courtesy, he alleges, of Home Affairs. This is something Ngobeni has tried to fix for the last six years, without success. By MANDY DE WAAL.

“It is a long time now. Since 2006 I have tried to change this ID number now. Eish,” said George Ngobeni, who shook his head as he looked toward the heavens in a remote village in Limpopo called Basterspad. Ngobeni has been living with the wrong ID number and incorrect birth date in his identity documents for six years now. 

Ngobeni, 62, was eligible to start collecting an older person’s grant two years ago, but hasn’t been able to draw these funds distributed by the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) because of the problem with his ID number.

“Before the election I went for a new ID book, and they made my ID wrong. I was born in 1950, on 10 January. When I got my ID back I see that on my ID they make my birth date 1954. I try to go back and try and get the right one, and I have got my right birth certificate here.” But years of trying have brought Ngobeni, who should be supporting his wife and children, no joy.

“I show the people at Home Affairs my birth certificate and a photocopy of my right ID certificate. I try and I try but each time at Home Affairs, but the ID document is coming with 1954, with the wrong birth date, each and every time.” Ngobeni walked into his room in a small dwelling in Basterspad, some 58 kilometres west of Mokopane (formerly Potgietersrus). He unlocked his cupboard and took out a plastic bag in which his papers are neatly filed away. He puts them on a bureau, covered with ‘Vote ANC” stickers, and started counting the copies of the ID applications he has. 

“Look at this one – it is number one. Here is two, three, four, five, six, seven…. It is seven times now. Now I am supposed to get a pension because I am over sixty. But now I must wait. If I go to Home Affairs to get help they say I must just use my wrong ID number.”

As Ngobeni shuffled through the ID documentation and Sassa applications we happened across his ANC membership. It was issued in Lusaka. 

“Now I don’t even know what to do. I have been everywhere. But now I am thinking I must go to where I was born, to Naboomspruit, to see if I can come right there. I have applied too much,” again Ngobeni shook his head, adding, “It is costing me too much money.”

Ngobeni’s mother, a traditional healer now deceased, saved up funds so that her son could sort out his papers. “I have been to Pretoria. I have been to Johannesburg. I go to Limpopo, to that side and I wait for two months to get my ID and it is still the wrong ID,” Ngobeni said, exasperated. 

“Now I am sick. I can’t go too far. I don’t get a pension because they use this wrong ID and they say I am too young. But I am not too young. So I can’t work and I can’t draw a pension. I have got children and I have got a wife…” at this point Ngobeni broke down and started to cry. The tears rolled down his cheek towards the dry, red sand below his feet.

He shook his head and recovered. “Eish. It is a long time. A long time,” he said, repeating a phrase that’s used often during this interview. “The last time I went was in July. You wait for three months but still it is wrong. Here is the birth certificate; you can see it is the right one. You can see that it says I was born in 1950, not 1954. Each time it can cost me so much money. I took a paper and I wrote down all the money I have lost trying to sort out this ID problem. In recent times it was R1,210.”

Phoned for comment, the Department of Home Affairs responded swiftly, despite it being a Sunday. Deputy Director General Vusi Mkhize promised to investigate Ngobeni’s problem, and to get back to Daily Maverick.

“People keep their ID documents for a long time, sometimes up to 20 years, and only then discover there’s a problem,” said Mkhize. “Obviously we can’t chop and change the national population registrar, so we need to investigate thoroughly to see why people want their ID details changed, and how many times they’ve requested a change to be made.

“We have had a significant problem with people who want to change their ID numbers to run away from debt. Obviously if this is a genuine mistake we will do a rectification or an amendment. A rectification is where there was an error on our part, while an amendment is when the ID holder wants details changed. But we will do a thorough investigation into this matter,” Mkhize said.

Meanwhile, in July 2012 Nthoriseng Motsitsi presented the status of Home Affairs in the Limpopo province to the Home Affairs parliamentary committee, which chronicled a litany of challenges.

A strong thrust for Home Affairs under Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has been to ensure the security of citizens and to radically improve service delivery. In its report Home Affairs in Limpopo said it was committed to this goal and is people-centred, professional, efficient and innovative. 

The reality on the ground in Limpopo is different, unfortunately. The quarterly report tabled by Motsitsi showed the province had something of a leadership crisis. There was no provincial co-ordinator, and three out of five of the posts for Municipal Home Affairs Managers were empty. Limpopo has 16 mobile offices, but 13 of them are dysfunctional.

Perhaps more problematic are the statistics Provincial Home Affairs hasn’t tracked. The provincial department tracks many outcomes, like how many duplicate ID books were issued, unclaimed IDs and late registration of births, but there is one statistic is absent: error rates. For instance, how many incorrect ID documents were issued by the department for the quarter under review?

The massive push for in Home Affairs has been for efficiency and speed – but at what cost for people like George Ngobeni? Yes, Ngobeni can get a new ID document in three months now, but seven times in a row the incorrect ID number has been issued to him. He should have been on pensions for two years now, but he has yet to collect a cent. 

For a person like Ngobeni, efficiency without precision means nothing. All he wants, and needs, is an ID document that is finally correct. DM

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