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Are South African IDs ‘no longer considered secure because of Nigerian smugglers’? We asked embassies

Anti-immigrant groups in South Africa are prone to making unsubstantiated claims. We looked at one in a long list of many.

This article is more than 2 years old

  • An anti-immigration group recently claimed that South African identity documents were being treated with suspicion by visa-issuing authorities across the world due to smuggling concerns. 

  • But several embassies told us they scrutinised South African ID documents the same way they did any others.

  • An immigration expert told Africa Check systemic factors that made it difficult for foreign nationals to obtain documents in South Africa legally should be the focus, instead of targeting  immigrants.

A Twitter account with more than 19,000 followers linked to Operation Dudula recently made a claim about the ability of South Africans to travel internationally.   

“Our South African IDs are no longer considered Secure by Visa issuing authorities across the world due to many reports of Nigerians smugglers being arrested having used the RSA system to get that Visa,” the 28 March 2022 tweet read. 



The activities of Operation Dudula have in recent months come into sharp focus in South Africa, following its adoption of vigilantism to target foreigners. 

Dudula translates to “force out” or “knock down”. The unregistered community organisation is one of the most visible faces of the anti-immigration movement. It has received an outsized proportion of online attention, with many in the media accusing it of “xenophobic nationalism”. 

Supporters blame social issues such as drugs, human trafficking, unemployment and overwhelmed social services on what they call illegal immigration. 

South African identity documents are issued by the Department of Home Affairs. They include identity books and smart ID cards, issued to citizens over the age of 16, as well as passports. Birth certificates are given to children born in South Africa irrespective of their nationality as long as their birth is registered, as required by law.

But is it true that South African identity documents are no longer considered secure by visa-issuing authorities? We reached out to embassies. 

No specific policies for South African IDs, say local embassies

“We are not aware of any systematic fraud involving South African IDs or passports, and I can confirm that we do consider South Africa documents to be generally secure,” Vigdis Beaussier, the French embassy’s spokesperson, told Africa Check.

Beaussier said that while consulates do deal with cases of fraud, the fraudsters are “of various nationalities” and use a “variety of fraudulent documents”.  

France is one of the European Union member states which issue a Schengen visa. This visa allows access to 26 countries

Australia also accepts South African identity documents. Paul Collins, the second secretary of immigration at the Australian High Commission, said genuinely issued identity documents are accepted from visa applicants. 

“However, generally more than one ID document is required to be presented prior to issuing a visa,” he said.

Immigration New Zealand told Africa Check that all identity documents are checked using the same process. If there is any concern about specific documents, further verification is done on a case-by-case basis. 

“Immigration New Zealand does not have a specific policy for identity documents being issued from South Africa,” said Steve McGill, the client services advisor at the Immigration New Zealand contact centre.

Another embassy which sees significant visa applications from South Africans could not go on record due to internal policy restrictions. But it told Africa Check it had not picked up patterns of fraud using South African identity documents, as claimed in the tweet.  

UK visa in place for South Africans since 2009

Like much effective disinformation, there is a kernel of truth in this claim.  

South African passport holders can access 104 countries without a visa. Until 2009 South Africans also had visa-free access to the UK. This was however stopped amid reports of suspected terrorists found with forged South African passports. 

The UK government said this decision was not targeted at South Africa but was part of a broader review of its visa regime. However, in the years running up to this decision, there had been concern over the integrity of South African passports.

We have reached out to the British High Commission for comment. 

The Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa said in 2011 the three main ways of getting an illegal passport were through alteration of lost or stolen passports, the use of blank passports, and legal passports obtained through corrupt means, such as bribing officials. 

Home affairs, not immigrants, root of problem, says researcher

Prof Loren Landau is the South African research chair in mobility and the politics of difference at the African Centre of Migration Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. He told Africa Check that obtaining legal documents through corrupt means at the home affairs department had been prevalent for years and was caused by systemic factors. 

“The policy frameworks have shifted dramatically which has made it more difficult for people to access documents that would allow them to stay in South Africa. That has pushed up the value of those documents that are available and given [corrupt officials] in home affairs the incentive to sell those documents rather than to issue them legally,” he said.  

Landau said that home affairs had been “woefully understaffed” for years, making it “almost impossible” for those who wanted to obtain documents to do so legally. 

He said claims such as by anti-immigrant groups “demonise a particular population group” and “distract us from dealing with the real issues”.

“In this case, instead of trying to address irregularity or criminality within home affairs, we’re trying to control the behaviour of those outside.”

Conclusion: No substance to claim by Operation Dudula Twitter account that South African IDs receive special attention from foreign embassies

A tweet posted by a social media account affiliated to the anti-immigrant Operation Dudula group claimed that South African identity documents were no longer considered secure by visa issuing authorities around the world. 

This, it said, was because of “many reports” of Nigerian smugglers being found with fraudulent documents.

We spoke to a number of embassies, all of which confirmed they treated South African passports like any other. 

The French and Australian embassies both confirmed that South African identity documents are accepted from visa applicants and are considered to be “generally secure”.

An immigration expert said the systemic factors that make it difficult for foreign nationals to obtain documents legally should be the focus.  

We therefore rate this claim as misleading.

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