The short answer
You can phone their hotline but you will probably have better luck if you get help from a non-government organisation.
The whole question
I have been trying to get a birth certificate for my 5-year-old son since 2019 but Home Affairs still hasn't granted me an interview. Every time I go to the office to ask if there is a problem, they say that they will phone me soon, but still nothing. My son is meant to start school next year but I can't enrol him because he doesn't have documents. I can't even get a child support grant for him. What can I do?
The long answer
As Marianne Merten noted in a Daily Maverick article on 23 October 2022, “The Home Affairs disaster cuts right across society, including the learner who needs an identity document to write matric exams, widows left stranded without death certificates to access pension funds or moms cradling newborns who need birth certificates for child care grants.”
But before we get into that, let’s look at the Child Support Grant: The Legal Resources Centre said in a February 2021 online article, that “Caregivers of children without birth certificates are legally entitled to apply for a social grant in terms of regulation 11(1) of the Regulations to the Social Assistance Act. This provision allows them to gain access to a CSG, even though they do not yet have a birth certificate which is ordinarily required at the application stage of the grant.”
The problem is that SASSA will terminate the grant after three months if you can’t show them a birth certificate in that time.
In terms of your son enrolling for school next year: the Makhanda High Court ruled in December 2019 that no child could be prevented from attending school because they did not have a birth certificate. The court ruled that Clause 15 of the Admission Policy for Ordinary Public Schools 1998, was unconstitutional because the Constitution says that all children living in South Africa have a right to basic education. The court directed the Department of Basic Education to admit all children without birth certificates into public schools in the Eastern Cape. The court also ordered that if the child could not produce a birth certificate, the school principal must accept an alternate proof of identity, like an affidavit or sworn statement by the parent or caregiver of the child by which the child is identified.
It may be that the Department of Basic Education has not made sure that all schools understand this, but it is the law and it can be enforced.
(A problem that will come up later, of course, is that children cannot be enrolled in a university without a birth certificate, once they have completed matric.)
The Constitution also guarantees the right to fairness and administrative justice – and waiting for three years to be granted an interview to get a late registration of birth interview is certainly not administrative justice. Home Affairs is required to provide proper services in a reasonable time to the public, as all our government departments must.
But to put it bluntly, Home Affairs is in a mess. In a public hearing on 2 March 2022 when Home Affairs addressed the parliamentary portfolio committee, they were asked why it took up to three years for adoptive parents to get birth certificates, and they said that it was because the applications were often incomplete and this caused delays. Verifying documents also took a long time.
It also came out in these parliamentary hearings that there was a huge backlog for late birth registration (LBR) interviews, and in the whole of eThekwini there was only one Home Affairs committee responsible for all LBR interviews. This is clearly absurd when you consider how many people need to apply for LBR interviews.
The Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said in August 2022 that the reason that it takes so long to get documentation, for example, an unabridged marriage or birth certificate, is that Home Affairs officials have to search through some 350 million manual documents to find the one they are looking for. And now that Home Affairs has embarked on a three-year digitization programme which will employ 10,000 unemployed information technology (IT) graduates, Motsoaledi says that it will eventually have access to digitised records “at a click of a button” and Home Affairs officials would be able to finalise the applications instantly.
But Home Affairs is also known to talk up a good game that doesn’t reflect what is happening on the ground.
An SA Migration International blog post on 19 October 2022 reported that the Auditor-General’s office had briefed the parliamentary portfolio committee on Home Affairs and said, regarding the new technology systems (such as eVisa, the BioMetric Movement Control System and the Abis system) that while Home Affairs had to improve its IT systems to improve service delivery, there were “significant control deficiencies” at Home Affairs.
Mr Rabonda of the Auditor-General’s office warned that if these were not addressed, “… the modernisation projects may have similar significant control deficiencies as the legacy systems. This means that Home Affairs will have new systems with the same problems.” He said that these problems were caused by “poor project management and governance processes within Home Affairs’ IT internal department. Over the past few years, we have been reporting that there is leadership instability in the ICT environment in Home Affairs.”
The Abis system was introduced to replace the Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS), which was manually operated and outdated. The Abis system is supposed to consolidate all the South African and foreign national data into a single national identification database, so it’s a very big project – but Rabonda also said that the Abis project was one of the biggest causes of irregular expenditure at Home Affairs (R12.8-million) in the 2021/2022 financial year.
Besides the above, we know about the rotational work arrangements, frequent system failures, communication issues, and existing backlogs that the law firm Webber Wentzel has identified in Home Affairs’ processing of visas.
So, after all this, what can you do about your LBR interview problem?
The Home Affairs hotline is 0800 60 11 90.
But it does seem clear that Home Affairs will not listen to the voice of an ordinary person, but can be made to listen if someone with a more powerful voice steps in. For example, in another case of a person who had waited some five years for an LBR interview, an organisation took up her case with Home Affairs and it was discovered that Home Affairs had closed her file, after attempting three times to phone her to come for an interview and failing to get her on the line. (The Home Affairs protocol seems to be that they must try three times and then they can close the file). It’s not clear to me if she had changed her phone number or what the problem was, but in the end, she got her LBR interview with Home Affairs and got the birth certificate.
So, it seems to me that your best bet is to ask one of the following organisations to help you speak to Home Affairs:
tel: 021 465 6433
Musina: 015 534 2203, Durban: 031 301 0531, Pretoria: 012 3202943, Johannesburg: 011 339 1960, Cape Town: 021 424 8561
Tel: Johannesburg: 011 836 9831, Cape Town: 021 481 3000.
The Black Sash
Helpline: 072 66 33 73
Wishing you the best,
Answered on Nov. 8, 2022, 12:10 p.m.
Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.