The Department of Home Affairs issued its 10 millionth smart ID card on Wednesday, but an increase in foot traffic of up to 150% may hinder government's ability to reach the full 2023 migration target.
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba presented his budget speech in Parliament ahead of his department's budget vote in the Old Assembly chamber on Wednesday.
During his pre-budget press briefing, Gigaba said the department had just issued its 10 millionth smard ID since launching the initiative in 2013. The recipient's name was Nomthandazo Maweni, who will be a guest in the public gallery when the budget is presented.
The programme is gaining momentum, but they may need to revise their 2023 target dates as queues start "stretching [into] streets", Gigaba said.
"We said by 2023 we want to have converted all green barcoded ID documents into smart ID cards," Gigaba told journalists in Parliament on Wednesday.
"We've reached 10 million conversions now, and it's 2019.
"From where we started since 2013, we have been picking up momentum, but it is likely we will not have reached 38 million conversions by 2023."
Queues have increased '100 to 150%'
Gigaba said home affairs offices had experienced a drastic spike in demand, particularly for the smart ID card, since the beginning of 2018.
"So we've had increases of 100% to 150% at all our offices around the country, [but] a 0% increase in office footprint, a 0% increase in the size of the office, and a 0% increase in the number of staff."
His officials therefore have gone from servicing 85 people on average, to between 170 and 200 people a day.
"And we have not increased the physical infrastructure and we have not increased the staff. We also have an unreliable network."
Citizens should therefore not expect "miracles" from "under-resourced" officials.
His fears were for long queues that "stretch along the streets" during winter, while elderly and young citizens stand in the cold.
"We may have fatalities, I wish we do not. We are working around the clock to introduce solutions to ensure we do not suffer any fatality of a minor person or elderly person because of the cold weather.
"We do not have resources to do deal with this."
Plans in place
Gigaba said the current budget was set in stone following the national budget speech – delivered when he was still finance minister – in February this year.
The department has launched strategies to combat the long queues, including the new digitisation project for citizen data – which includes fingerprint databases – announced on Wednesday.
Deputy Minister Fatima Chohan said it was a given that the department was not entirely happy with its allocation, but added, however, that it would be using its resources to continue its "war on queues".
The bulk of urban offices have the largest foot traffic problem.
The department would communicate through radio stations to direct Western Cape citizens to branches that have less traffic around the country, thanks to a new tool developed to analyse trends, she said.
One hundred and eighty-four digitised home affairs offices around the country now take card payments. Smart ID cards and passports can be applied for at 14 participating bank branches as well.
Approximately 212 101 smart ID cards and more than 222 406 passports have been obtained through the existing 14 pilot branches.
Standard Bank, First National Bank, Nedbank and ABSA have also agreed to extend "eHomeAffairs" to 20 additional branches immediately.
"So we are attending to this to the best of our ability and hope our partners can respond to our pleas and provide us with the support we need," said Gigaba.
The department's budget for the current financial year is R7.9bn.