_: The Minister of Home Affairs and Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished participants. It gives me great pleasure to join you this morning at this important conference which deals with an equally important topic which affects various stages of the lives of all the people of our beloved continent.
We would like to especially extend a warm welcome to all delegates from the African continent to this important conference of Ministers responsible for civil registration and vital statistics in our continent.
The first conference of this nature, which was held in Addis Ababa in 2010, laid a solid foundation for the mobilisation of Africa and her political leadership to ensure that every African, young and old, is registered and accounted for, so that we can plan better for Africa’s development.
Central to the advancement of Africa’s development is the social inclusion agenda, which we cannot successfully accomplish without proper and modern civil registration systems.
Under the leadership of one of Africa’s great sons, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, the first conference laid a good foundation for the restoration of the dignity of the African people through civil registration.
We once again extend our deepest condolences to the Ethiopian people on the passing on of Prime Minister Zenawi.
Ladies and gentlemen, The subject of this gathering is significant as it is part of the fulfilment of the dream of the African people to shape their mother land in their own way, following the defeat of colonialism. One of the founding fathers of the Organisation for African Unity, Kwame Nkrumah, reminded Africans in May 1963, that the struggle against colonialism would not end with the attainment of national independence.
“Independence is only the prelude to a new and more involved struggle for the right to conduct our own economic and social affairs; to construct our society according to our aspirations, unhampered by crushing and humiliating neo-colonialist controls and interference,” he said.
This conference is very much part of that exercise of conducting our own affairs and to undo the legacy of colonialism which deprived Africans of identity and citizenship.
As you know, Africa cannot fulfill its development agenda unless we know, who we are, where we live, work and play and what we need to better our living conditions on the continent. Births, marriages, divorces or deaths are all vital events that must be recorded in any country.
Today, there are still people on the African continent who are born and die without ever leaving a trace in any legal record of their existence. This is a phenomenon that has come to be known as the ‘scandal of invisibility’. It has meant that the most vulnerable people in Africa remain unseen and not counted. They practically do not exist.
We want the citizens of all of Africa’s 54 countries to be registered and this will be accomplished through efficient civil and registration systems.
We are happy that in our country this campaign is spearheaded by the Minister of Home Affairs, who will soon be taking up office in Addis Ababa as the AU Commission Chairperson.
We can then be assured that she will champion this campaign in earnest from the headquarters of the African Union, to ensure that the dignity and existence of the African people is upheld.
Ladies and gentlemen, I must add that in this age of globalisation and greater interdependence among countries, civil registration serves more than just the purpose of identifying one’s nationality.
It is also a pre-requisite for the successful implementation of African regional integration, as it facilitates the smooth movement of people among countries.
Furthermore, the benefits of good vital registration have a far reaching impact on broad developmental programmes such as the planning and monitoring of education, health, social security, unemployment.
These include the ability of countries to measure health inequalities, priorities, monitor trends, evaluate development programmes including, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), poverty reduction and other developmental efforts.
It further contributes to the ability of countries to implement policies for community planning, monitoring inequalities and future planning and resource allocation.
More importantly, civil registration is a critical tool for the promotion of democracy, in the event of the compilation of voters’ rolls.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We find ourselves as Africans in this situation of promoting civil registration at this day and age due to the history of our continent and respective countries.
For example, South Africa, like other countries in Africa, comes from a history of colonial and apartheid regimes where most of the citizens were denied their right to citizenship.
As a result, a largely fragmented and selective civil registration system was used to perpetuate the discrimination and marginalisation of the majority of the population.
The colonial and apartheid regimes successfully used this system to deliberately and systematically prevent the African masses from exercising their right to vote and choose their own governments.
In our case, before 1994, the majority of black South Africans carried inferior identity documents that confined them to the periphery of mainstream economy and an almost meaningless social existence.
Civil registration laws of the colonial and apartheid period were a continuation and confirmation of the brutality of the regime of the time.
In 1923, the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act was passed, which made registration compulsory for all races in urban areas but voluntary for Africans in the rural areas.
The first census of the Union of South Africa was taken in 1911, one year after its formation. Several enumerations occurred after that, but the black African population was not accurately counted in any of them.
In 1950, when apartheid legislation officially restricted black peoples to approximately 13 percent of the land, blacks were deliberately excluded in the national census.
It was probably not necessary to include them as the racist regime had no intentions of planning for their development.
A significant milestone was achieved when the majority of South Africans registered for the first time, to express their will through the ballot box.
Since 1994, our government has worked hard to ensure that citizens reclaim their birth right and restore their dignity. We have since the advent of democracy in 1994, moved to an integrated and inclusive system of civil registration.
In this regard, the country has benefited greatly from a number of amendments and repeals in the legislation. This development has provided an enabling environment for well-functioning civil registration systems.
For example, South Africa has since the 1st conference of the Ministers responsible for Civil Registration in Addis Ababa in 2010, amended the Births and Deaths Registration Act and the South African Citizenship Act, which have led to greater civil registration coverage.
Prior to 1994, less than six hundred thousand births were registered throughout the country, and 64% of these births were registered as late registration of birth which is not acceptable and against the law.
This has improved significantly since the first democratic elections and the ushering in of democracy.
The rate of birth registrations has more than doubled and we now achieve 1,2 million birth registrations per year since the advent of democracy.
We are proud of the fact that out of a total of one million eighty six thousand, nine hundred and one (1 086 901) children registered for the 2010/11 financial year, 946 031 children were registered before their first birthday.
This is 87% of the sum total of children registered, which is 17% higher than the target of 70% that we had set for ourselves.
We have also seen a dramatic decline in late registrations of birth especially by black people who, due to difficulties before, tended to register births late or not at all.
We have in particular successfully reduced the number of children being registered after their 15th birthday.
The late registration of persons of 15 years and above, decreased from 354 588 in the 2009/10 financial year to one hundred and ten thousand nine hundred and two persons (110 902) in the 2011/12 financial year.
There are enormous security benefits to this achievement, as we have significantly reduced the risk of fraudulent acquisition of citizenship.
This success can be attributed to the National Population Registration Campaign which was launched in 2010.
We must also acknowledge the sterling contribution of the Minister of Home Affairs.
Since the beginning of her tenure in 2009 in this portfolio, she has dedicated a lot of time, effort and resources to use the department to bring back the dignity and confidence of our people which had been taken away by the colonial and apartheid regimes.
The African Union is the richer for obtaining her skills and dedication. We wish her well in her new portfolio at the helm of the AU as its first woman chairperson.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to note that the conference will also showcase some of the new technologies to enhance the protection and integrity of the civil registration system.
These technologies will help us to counter problems such as identity theft, fraud, corruption as well as illicit economic and criminal related border activities.
In an effort to modernise our civil registration system, we are also in the process of introducing the new integrated smart card identification system.
This system will capture important security information such as barcode, biometric and biographical details, as well as other invisible security features.
These efforts will not only modernise our civil registration, but also enhance its integrity and security.
Ladies and gentlemen, Allow me to express my gratitude to all African Heads of States for having agreed to this bi-annual continental platform that has been adopted as an African Union programme.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank all development partners for their ongoing support and cooperation in the implementation of the Africa Programme on Accelerated Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics.
We will continue to count on your support and cooperation as we work hard not only to strengthen, but also to modernise civil registration in the African continent.