Yoti Digital Identity Fellow Tshepo Magoma has issued his second field diary from South Africa. Magoma was one of three Fellows selected through Yoti’s new Fellowship Programme, through which he is examining the human rights implications of South Africa’s national Smart ID initiative. His first dispatch came in November, and detailed the scope and goals of the project.
With the update, Magoma has highlighted several key trends and commonly held perspectives that emerged from his conversation with South African citizens. He found that people in small towns and rural areas have been slow to adopt Smart ID cards, and that many fail to see the benefits (and the risks) of a national ID program. Many people simply do not need to use a national ID card on a regular basis. As a result, many do not yet have a Smart ID card, while others have not bothered to replace a card that was lost or stolen.
Of course, that represents a potential security issue, especially given South Africa’s high rates of fraud and unemployment. The country is increasingly requiring an ID from those looking to gain access to various government services, leading to widespread forgery and identity theft as people try to obtain various benefits. Magoma also noted that while South Africa has been encouraging people to take advantage of online services, it has failed to invest in the regulatory and authentication infrastructure needed to ensure the security of those interactions.
To that end, Magoma is hoping that his research will raise awareness about some of the problems with the current system, and push South Africa to take steps to address some of those issues. In his conversations, he often needed to inform people about the negative consequences of identity theft, and dispel misconceptions about Smart ID cards more generally.
Magoma did give the government credit for improving its turnaround times when issuing new Smart ID cards. A process that previously took six months can now be completed in less than a week. Magoma suggested that that progress demonstrates South Africa’s commitment to its national ID program and speaks to its efforts to build a more robust digital infrastructure.