SA Citizenship Amendment Bill & Births and Deaths Registration Amendment Bill: Departmental briefing

Home Affairs

02 August 2010
Chairperson: Mr B Martins (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) briefed the Committee on the Births and Deaths Registration Amendment Bill and the South African Citizenship Amendment Bill. Both contained clauses that were intended to alleviate the problems that the Department currently faced in implementing existing legislation, would update and bring references and wording in line, and would fill the gaps identified by the Department.

The Births and Deaths Registration Amendment Bill amended provisions relating to registration of births and amendment of birth registration information, and widened the category of people who could register births, as well as providing for late registration of births. More stringent verification of identity processes were to be put in place to prevent fraud. It made provision for recognition of child-headed households and assistance to them with registration of births and other issues. In future, undertakers or funeral parlours that met certain criteria would be able to issue death certificates. The Bill finally corrected discrepancies in language, formatting and references of the Births and Deaths Registration Act.

The South African Citizenship Amendment Bill would amend provisions of the South African Citizenship Act that
dealt with citizenship by birth, naturalisation, and loss of citizenship ordered by the Department. A child born outside of the country to South African parents would be classified South African by birth. A child born to foreign parents in South Africa could attain South African citizenship if that child lived in South Africa from birth until reaching majority. The Bill proposed that permanent residents wishing to get a certificate of naturalisation must now be resident for five, instead of four years. If a person seeking South African citizenship was from a country that did not permit dual citizenship, there would have to be a written renunciation of original citizenship. Naturalised citizenship could be withdrawn if its holder participated in a war against the stated policy of the South African government.

Members asked about citizenship of people born outside South Africa, the citizenship status of a child born to parents with dual citizenship, how the Department would register home births and deaths in remote areas, and
how the Department would verify the authenticity of marriages that could confer citizenship. Several Members noted their disquiet with the clauses that dealt with citizenship being withdrawn by the Department, enquired in what circumstances this would happen and noted the need for the wording to be clearer. The sanctions proposed for defaulters in Clause 6 of the Citizenship Amendment Bill were criticised as harsh. It was noted that public hearings were still to be held on both Bills.

Meeting report

Births and Deaths Registration Amendment Bill (BDR Bill) and the South African Citizenship Amendment Bill (Citizenship Bill): Department of Home Affairs (DHA) briefing
Mr Mkuseli Apleni, Director General, Department of Home Affairs, briefed the Committee on the Births and Deaths Registration Amendment Bill and the South African Citizenship Amendment Bill.

The Births and Deaths Registration Amendment Bill (BDR Bill) was proposed in order to
amend those parts of the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1992 (the 1992 Act) that dealt with the registration of births and amendments of birth registration for persons already registered. The Bill also sought to deal with the allocation of powers to issue death certificates, to certain funeral undertakers/parlours, and to add to the recording of adoptions under this Act.

The BDR Bill proposed that registration of births be executed by the parents, next of kin (where the parents were deceased) or relative, thus widening the category of people who could register a birth from the 1992 Act. It also provided for late reporting and registration of births within a period of 31 days. It would also require more stringent verification of identity processes to be put in place, to prevent fraud.

The BDR Bill also sought to amend formatting inconsistencies, and to remove references to repealed legislation that were still noted in the 1992 Act.

The BDR Bill also made provision for the recognition of orphaned families headed by children in order to assist such families with registration of births and other issues.

Furthermore, the BDR Bill now provided that undertakers or funeral parlours could, after meeting certain criteria, apply for the right to issue death certificates. Finally, this Bill sought to address discrepancies in the language used in sections of the 1992 Act.    

The South African Citizenship Amendment Bill (the Citizenship Bill) would amend the
South African Citizenship Act of 1995 (the 1995 Act). This Bill sought to amend provisions in that Act dealing with citizenship by birth, naturalisation, and circumstances under which a loss of citizenship could be effected by the Department. The Citizenship Bill sought to clarify that a child born outside of the country to South African parents should be classified as a South African by birth.

The Citizenship Bill proposed that the period of time that permanent residents in South Africa must be resident before a certificate of naturalization was issued should be changed from four years to five years. It furthermore proposed that any naturalised citizen who participated in a war against the stated policy of the South African government could have his/her citizenship withdrawn. However, this Bill also provided that any person who applied to be a naturalised citizen could not be granted South African citizenship if that person originally came from a country that did not permit dual citizenship, unless the applicant renounced his or her original citizenship in a written submission to the Minister of Home Affairs.

The Citizenship Bill proposed that any person born to foreign parents in South Africa would be deemed to attain citizenship by birth if that person lived in South Africa from their time of his or her birth to the age of majority.

Discussion
Mr M Mnqasela (DA) expressed his satisfaction at the thorough preparation and presentation on the Bills. He commented that many people who had previously resided in South Africa, but had left before the democratic dispensation, would be happy to see a comprehensive section on naturalisation and how they could earn their citizenship. He commended the space for debate allowed for in both Bills by the Department and complimented the Department on sections pertaining to funeral parlours and their powers to issue death certificates. He asked how citizenship was awarded to people born outside the country but who claimed to be South African.

Mr Apleni said that if one of the parents of the individual born outside the country was a South Africa citizen, then that person would also be recognized as a South African citizen by birth.

Ms Z Balindlela (COPE) also commended the Department on its comprehensive presentation. Ms Balindlela and Ms D Mathebe (ANC) asked how the Department would handle the issue of registering home births and deaths in remote areas where it was harder to reach clinics and hospital facilities.

Mr Monwabisi Nguqu, Senior State Law Adviser, Office of the Chief State Law Adviser, said that the Department of Home Affairs would enlist social workers to go to remote areas to alleviate the problem of registration of births and deaths.

Ms Balindlela asked what would be the citizenship status of a child born to parents with dual citizenship.

Mr Apleni said that if one of the parents of the child born outside the country was a South Africa citizen, then the child would also be recognized as a citizen by birth.

Ms D Mathebe (ANC) asked how the Department would verify the authenticity of potentially fraudulent marriages undertaken to gain citizenship for non-citizens.

Mr Apleni said that the Department was looking carefully at the issue of illegitimate marriages and would introduce a system where it was mandatory for people who were non-citizens, and who sought citizenship as a result of a marriage, to produce documentary evidence of the marriage and provide their fingerprints before a ceremony for the Department to check veracity.

Dr C Mulder (FF+) sought clarification from the Department on the amendments to Section 6 of the South African Citizenship Act, as proposed in Clause 6 of the Citizenship Bill, which were amending a prison sentence for defaulters, from the 5 years stated in the Act, to up to 15 years. He wondered in what circumstances a country would deem it necessary to withdraw citizenship from a citizen. He was concerned about the vagueness of the language surrounding a citizen’s participation in a war. He asked whether it was the policy of government to support wars of any nature.

Mr Apleni said that the government did not support wars, but only backed peace initiatives.

Mr Vusi Mkhize, Deputy Director General, Department of Home Affairs, said that the wording dealing with citizens taking part in wars not supported by the government was intended to target people who participated in mercenary activities, against official government policy. He said that such people operating under foreign directorship could lose their citizenship. The DHA would align this amendment with other sections of the Constitution addressing this issue.

Advocate Deon Erasmus, Chief Director: Legal Services, Department of Home Affairs, spoke to the concerns around the prison sentence. He clarified that the wording referred to a defaulter being jailed for “up to 15 years” and did not mean that there should be a mandatory 15-year sentence. He agreed that the wording around South African citizens participating in wars against government policy would need to be considered carefully; the Bill was still in the initial stages and this could be further clarified.

Mr Mulder said that a sentence of up to 15 years for what he considered a minor offence was not logical.

The Chairperson agreed that it would be necessary to make the clauses around participation in wars more clear.

Mr Mukesh Vassen, Parliamentary Legal Adviser, asked how the DHA would strip a citizen of his citizenship.

Mr Nguqu said that the provisions relating to stripping a citizen of his/her citizenship pertained only to naturalised citizens.

The Chairperson reminded the Committee that this was only the initial briefing on the Bills and that other processes, including public hearings, and the opportunity for more extensive debate, would take place prior to the adoption of the Bills.

The meeting was adjourned.

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