The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) in South Africa has declared that they will soon be phasing out green ID books in the country. According to Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, the nation is prepared to transition to a single identification method, the Smart ID card. This announcement follows an 18-month collaboration with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to enhance the country’s IT systems, which have been plagued by issues resulting in long queues at Home Affairs offices.

The introduction of smart ID cards

Smart ID cards were first introduced in 2013, with the aim of phasing out green ID books between 2018 and 2022. However, this rollout has encountered numerous challenges. By the end of 2023, only 21 million Smart IDs had been issued. In the 2022/23 financial year, the DHA issued 2.6 million Smart ID cards, surpassing their target of 2.2 million. The department is also on track to meet their 2023/24 target of 2.5 million cards, having issued over 2 million Smart IDs between April and December 2023.

Challenges and delays in phasing out green ID books

The replacement of green ID books with Smart ID cards has progressed slower than anticipated. The DHA had previously stated that the green ID book would only become invalid once all centres had smart enrolment facilities to expedite the application process. However, the expansion of these facilities has been gradual.

Efforts to accelerate the application and delivery of Smart IDs include extending services to more branches, launching mobile service units, and opening satellite offices in high-traffic areas such as major shopping malls and bank branches. Despite these initiatives, the partnership with banks has experienced several delays. Currently, services are available at only about 30 bank branches as part of an extended “pilot” programme. Initially, it was expected that 40 new branches would be added, making the services more accessible.

Banking sector collaboration

In May 2024, the Banking Association of South Africa confirmed to BusinessTech that the deadline for signing on additional bank branches was extended from March 2024 to September 2024. This extension highlights the ongoing challenges in fully implementing the Smart ID card system. Despite the delays, over 3.5 million South Africans have utilised the bank branch system to obtain their Smart IDs and passports.

Future prospects

As the Department of Home Affairs continues to improve its IT systems and expand the availability of Smart ID cards, South Africans are encouraged to transition from the old green ID books to the new Smart ID cards. The department’s efforts to increase the number of smart enrolment facilities and partnerships with banks are crucial steps towards achieving this goal.

Final thoughts

The DHA’s plan for phasing out green ID books in South Africa represents a significant step towards modernising the country’s identification system. Although the rollout of Smart ID cards has faced several challenges, the Department of Home Affairs remains committed to ensuring that all South Africans can easily and efficiently obtain their Smart IDs. The transition to a single form of identification will simplify administrative processes and enhance the security and integrity of the country’s identification system.