Govt, academia to discuss SA’s digital ID initiative

The Artificial Intelligence Institute of SA will host an international seminar on the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in the design of digital identities (IDs) in South Africa.

The seminar is one of a number of catalytic projects of the recently-launched institute, which is located within the Johannesburg Business School (JBS) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

The event, hosted in partnership with the UJ, Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT), intends to demonstrate case studies of countries that successfully implemented such initiatives.

A digital ID is a legal biometrics-based equivalent of an individual's identity card, which can be used to prove an individual's identity and verify their profession, providing them the right to access information or services online or physically.

It is estimated that 137 million people in Southern Africa do not possess identity documentation and 15 million of them live in SA, according to research undertaken by The Economist in its Digital Identity Report South Africa published in 2021.

This research reflects the growing digital divide between the developed and developing world, and the need for a digital identity programme in SA for inclusive citizenship and the elimination of identity fraud.

“The seminar will bring together government, industry and academia experts to shape a steering committee to drive SA’s national single digital identity project. It will also explore issues around infrastructure and supporting technologies, advanced security, privacy and streamlined access to services across various platforms,” says UJ.

Established by the DCDT in collaboration with UJ and TUT, the institute aims to amplify teaching of robotics and coding in public schools.

Digital IDs have been on the agendas of many emerging economies for quite some time, with an estimated one billion people in developing countries globally still lacking proof of any legal identity, according to the UN.

It has also been shown that considerable economic and social gains can be leveraged by using biometrics for identity validation.

These include seamless access to smart city services, financial and social inclusivity,establishment of a framework of trust between government and citizens, and a mobile-first solution, according to the UN.

Professor Randall Carolissen, dean of JBS, notes: “In February 2023, Cabinet approved the publication of the National Identification and Registration Bill of 2022 for public comment.

“This Bill gives effect to the Official Identity Management Policy and seeks to provide a single, inclusive and integrated digital National Identification System (NIS) for all people who live or have lived in South Africa.

“The intention is for the NIS to be able to interface with other government and private sector identity systems. This seminar will assist with a blueprint going forward.”

Guest speakers who will participate in the seminar include:

  • Dr Shivagami Gugan, chief technologist for Middle East and Africa and digital identity evangelist for public sector at Amazon Web Services.
  • Eldrid Jordaan, CEO of Suppple and professor of practice at the Johannesburg Business School.
  • Anubhav Sharma, deputy chief of international business at the National Payments Corporation of India.
  • Steven Sidley, director at Bridge Capital Future Advisory, professor of practice at the Johannesburg Business School.
  • Max Sokolich, business development manager for SA and digital identity project owner at BankservAfrica.
See also