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Home Affairs to slash services in wake of Covid-19 as death registrations spiral

The staggering 44% increase in the number of death-certificate registrations at home affairs in December 2020 compared to December 2019 has highlighted the lethal nature of the Covid-19 pandemic

This large spike in death registrations, including the death of seven home affairs front-office workers in the first 10 days of this year alone, has forced the department to slash the number of services it offers at its branches countrywide. 

Speaking during a media briefing on Tuesday, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi gave a stark outline of the surge in deaths, saying that his department registered 55 676 deaths in December 2020, compared to 38 620 a year earlier. 

In December 2018, 36 825 deaths were registered by home affairs, Motsoaledi said, adding that the steep climb was attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Motsoaledi, who was expanding on the stringent regulations announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday, which included the closing of the country’s 20 land borders, said home affairs would no longer provide smart ID applications and collections, nor birth and marriage certificates, at any of its offices “until further notice”. 

Motsoaledi said this was based on a statistical analysis of who visited home affairs offices: 29% of people came for smart ID collections; 16% for smart ID applications; 11% for birth, marriage and death certificates; and 10% for temporary ID applications. 

Only matric learners would be allowed to apply for smart IDs. 

“We are also suspending marriage services and solemnisation of marriages and registration of marriages. We are aware that this will be difficult [for] people, but please bear with us because we have to save lives,” Motsoaledi said. 

“We are proposing that all birth and death [certificates] be registered at the health facilities where they took place. Not all hospitals have home affairs offices, unfortunately, but there are quite a number of hospitals where there are home affairs offices …”

Motsoaledi said the full list of hospitals with home affairs offices could be found on the department’s website. At the time of writing, the website had yet to be updated with this information. 

He reiterated that these measures were to protect staff and the public, because he had observed that people going to home affairs branches were not observing Covid-19 protocols of physical distancing. This caused increased infections among employees, seven of whom have died in the first 10 days of this year. 

However, operating hours would be extended from 8am to 7pm until 15 February to help with the registration of deaths, Motsoaledi said. 

Meanwhile, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma stressed that the country’s 20 land borders would be closed until 15 February.

“There [have] been a lot of problems at the land borders as people come back from holidays, from wherever they have been. And [this] necessitated that we close the 20 borders that were open, and permit limited services at those borders,” Dlamini-Zuma said. 

Motsoaledi said those limited services would include opening up for diplomats, deportation purposes and for people who wanted to go home or return to South Africa. 

Other categories of people and services that are exempt include foreign students returning for studies, cargo and other commercial goods, and the transportation of medical supplies. 

“If people don’t fall into any of the categories that I have mentioned, but believe their case is worth considering, they will then apply to the minister of home affairs for exemption,” he said. 

Applications for exemptions can be made by emailing [email protected], Motsoaledi added.

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