Digital overhaul of 350m home affairs records kicks-off

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 12 Jul 2023

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is looking to bid farewell to paper-based civic records, after commencing its much-talked-about digitisation project last month.

Announced by president Cyril Ramaphosa during his State of the Nation Address in February 2022, the project looks to digitise 350 million paper records and be an employment vehicle for 10 000 unemployed youth graduates.

The records being digitised relate to birth, marriages, deaths and amendments, which the DHA says date back to 1895, and necessitate care and reliable systems. They are located across all nine provinces, with the bulk in Gauteng, North West and Western Cape.

Through the project, the DHA looks to convert the paper-based records into an electronically-searchable format for easier handling and storage by the 2025/26 financial year.

Replying to a Parliamentary question from IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe on the project’s progress, the DHA says preparing records for digitisation in provinces has begun, with detailed indexing and condition assessing.

According to the department, the records digitisation has only commenced in Gauteng so far, starting at its Pretoria BVR office in June. This is where the initial system is set up and testing is in progress, it says.

Over 35 000 records were digitised by 23 June 2023, reads the DHA’s reply.

“Based on the current planning information, it is expected that the digitisation of records will be completed by January 2026, in line with project deadlines. The last equipment was delivered on 18 June 2023 and the process to complete the digitisation hubs is on track, with the physical building being prepared in line with the end-to-end process of the project.”

Youth employment vehicle

The project’s secondary objective – enhancement of youth employability – will result in recruitment of a total of 10 000 unemployed graduates that have completed studies in IT, record and document management.

This objective is in line with government’s efforts to alleviate the country’s joblessness, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with youth among the hardest hit.

Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey indicates the total number of unemployed youth (15-34 years) reached 4.9 million (46.5%) in the first quarter of this year.

The DHA says the employment of young people is being done in three phases. Phase one began last August, with the target of 2 000 young people assuming their duties in November 2022 under the programme and undergoing training.

Phases two and three will see a total of 8 000 unemployed youth graduates employed, with 4 000 employed during each of the phases. Successful youth will be paid a stipend ranging from R5 000 for entry-level positions, to R9 500 for technical support level positions and R14 250 for manager-level positions.

The DHA has partnered with relevant stakeholders to facilitate training of the recruits, with the recruitment process done in collaboration with the Department of Employment and Labour.

According to the Parliamentary response, although 2 000 were earmarked for the first phase, 1 045 were recruited. The department indicates it plans to fill the outstanding placements during the second phase.

“The advert for the second 4 000 cohort closed on 3 March 2023, and there were 45 028 applications received. The third phase will conclude the recruitment of the last cohort, which will be an additional 4 000.”

During the project’s three-year duration, youth will receive continuous learning and development interventions to improve their skills and equip them for future employment and/or entrepreneurial opportunities, the department notes.

Home affairs minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi. (Photograph by GCIS)
Home affairs minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi. (Photograph by GCIS)

According to the DHA, South Africans often complain about the delays they experience when applying for unabridged birth certificates, marriage certificates, amendments and modification of their biographic details.

To finalise all the applications, home affairs officials have to manually search for original documents among the 350 million manual records, it reveals.

Speaking on eNCA after the appointment of the first group of youth recruits, home affairs minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi noted the project aims to alleviate some of these pain points.

Although there may be valid reasons for wanting to make changes to records, Motsoaledi said there are instances where people do this because they are running away from creditors or have criminal records.

“These are some of the motives why people may want to change what’s in their records. We can’t just change it; we need to go back to the files but the files are paper records. If they are digitised…we will just press a button and all the information will be displayed. We’ll be able to help citizens almost immediately and they won’t need to do repeat visits to home affairs and we’ll have fewer queues.”

The minister also believes the modernisation will be a helpful step in cracking down on fraudulent activities at home affairs offices. “Manual systems are open to corruption, so home affairs must modernise its systems all the time and digitise them to avoid corruption.

“The nature in which documents are stolen at home affairs is because they are manual, but once we digitise them, they can’t be swiped. The digitisation will definitely reduce fraud and corruption remarkably.”

Budget matters

The project’s importance was highlighted in this year’s budget, with the DHA given a budget allocation of R839.9 million for the 2023/24 financial year.

Of this amount, R559.5 million will go towards compensation of young people employed for the project, revealed National Treasury’s 2023 Estimates of National Expenditure document.

The remainder of the funds will be used to procure ICT equipment and goods and services, the document states. “This year’s funds will mainly be used for recruiting more graduates, compensation of employees and payment for capital assets.”

The DHA is also working on other ICT modernisation projects over the medium-term that include rolling out biometric movement control systems at identified ports of entry; developing a live‐capture system for births, marriages and deaths; managing asylum-seekers; and developing and rolling out the e‐visa system.

“These projects will be funded at an estimated cost of R875 million in 2023/24 in the transversal information technology management sub-programme in the administration programme.”