Minister lays out plan to recruit 10,000 young South Africans for three-year project to digitise civic records
Details of Home Affairs’ R2.4-billion project to digitise its records were laid out by Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Thursday. The project will see the recruitment of 10,000 unemployed young people to help digitise more than 350 million civic paper records over the next three years.
The Department of Home Affairs will recruit 10,000 unemployed young graduates to help convert more than 350 million civic paper records to an electronic format over the next three years, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Thursday.
“Quite often, South Africans complain bitterly about the delays they experience when they apply for unabridged birth certificates, unabridged marriage certificates, amendments and rectification of their biographic details,” he said at a media briefing.
“This is because to finalise all these applications, Home Affairs officials have to manually search for original documents among these 350 million manual records. Obviously such a tedious process will take a long time, which people may not be aware of.
“This leads to frustration when people have to make several visits to Home Affairs,” he said.
The mass recruitment of unemployed youngsters was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his State of the Nation Address in February 2022. The Department of Home Affairs would “recruit 10,000 unemployed young people for the digitisation of paper records, enhancing their skills and contributing to the modernisation of citizen services”, he said.
The department has more than 350 million civic paper records relating to birth, death, marriages and amendments, dating back to 1895, according to Motsoaledi.
These records are in all provinces, but the bulk are in Gauteng, North West and the Western Cape.
“The digitisation of Home Affairs records is not a new thing,” said the minister, adding that the digitisation of records is currently being done by Stats SA.
“But, unfortunately, because of resources, [StatsSA] is only able to digitise five million records per annum.”
Motsoaledi added that while there has been insufficient progress in current digitisation efforts, the department’s records continue to increase.
“For instance, birth records increase by one million every year. So it’s a moving target.”
The digitisation project will run from November 2022 to October 2025, and will cost the department R2.4-billion, said Motsoaledi.
The minister added that the issue of long queues plaguing Home Affairs offices “can’t be resolved by digitisation only”, since the backlog of digitising records is only one of the contributing factors.
“The biggest one [factor] is the down time of the systems we require from the State Information Technology Agency,” he said.
The acquisition of young unemployed graduates would be done in collaboration with the Department of Employment and Labour, and considering the large number of recruits, it would be a phased process.
Motsoaledi explained that the first phase will begin this month, with advertisements for the initial intake of 2,000 graduates out on Friday, 12 August.
This first cohort would “assume duty” on 1 November 2022.
The department would recruit a further 4,000 in October, to begin work in January 2023.
The remaining 4,000 would be recruited in December 2022 and January 2023, and start work in April 2023.
“Youth can register and apply online through the Department of Home Affairs and Department of Employment and Labour websites. Those that don’t not have access to the internet can visit their closest Labour Centre of the Department of Employment and Labour,” said Motsoaledi.
The department was preparing workstations and sourcing tools to ensure they would be able to start digitising records in December.
“Once the records are digitised, Home Affairs officials will have access to them at a click of a button and would be able to finalise the applications instantly. This will obviate people having to come to the office on multiple occasions.
“Reducing the number of times a person needs to visit a Home Affairs office for these services will reduce queues in our offices.”
Read in Daily Maverick: Road to Nowhere – a day in a Hell Affairs queue
Motsoaledi also announced measures aimed at tightening passport security, after several incidents of passport fraud were reported in recent months.
Read in Daily Maverick: Hawks detain fake passport syndicate kingpin in Home Affairs sting
When passports were defrauded, the integrity of the South African passport was put into question, “causing many hardships for South African travellers”.
“It is for this reason that this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue,” said Motsoaledi.
“Today, we are announcing the first of three steps to be taken by the department to secure the integrity of our passport, and make it foolproof for fraudulent acquisition. The other two steps will be announced in due course.:”
While people could previously collect their passports from any Home Affairs office in the country, and passports could be retrieved by third parties, “this can no longer happen”.
According the minister, the following measures must be adhered to:
- A passport can only be collected strictly from the office where it was applied for;
- Only the person who applied for the passport can collect it by activating it through a fingerprint; and
- For minor children, their parents or guardians who helped them to apply for that passport will be the only ones allowed to collect it and activate it using their own fingerprints.
Motsoaledi said the fingerprint method is “nothing new” and is being used for the collection of Smart ID cards.
Home Affairs had exempted passport collection from this method because “many travellers found themselves in a hurry to travel” and did not always have time to go to Home Affairs offices.
“Unfortunately, this privilege is now being taken away,” said the minister.
“We must strongly warn that any passport collected using a method other than the ones announced today will not be activated, and hence will be of no use to the holder.”
Motsoaledi said that while Home Affairs is “able to produce a passport in five to 13 days”, it is “aware that this will inconvenience some frequent travellers and some busy people who might not have time”.
Daily Maverick previously reported that while the Home Affairs office in Caledon in the Western Cape is far from perfect, it is possible to receive somewhat timely assistance, without waiting in long queues.
The department also encouraged people wanting to apply for passports to use the Branch Appointment Booking System and “avoid long queues”. DM