Births and Deaths

Isn’t it wonderful to criticise, and particularly the Government of the day? Of all government departments, Home Affairs is probably the favourite whipping boy. Well, sometimes, that may be for a reason, but spare the following thought.

In 1994, at the dawn of democracy, there were around 38.28 million people in the Republic.1 Only 4.35 million were white people,2 and only they were recorded on the National Population Register.3 Meanwhile, many of the 30 million black South Africans, whose identities and citizenship status were the responsibility of fragmented and underfunded homelands, did not have their births recorded at all. Twenty five years on, our population stands at 59 million, a growth of 21 million people. Getting the record sorted cannot be for the faint-hearted.

The Births and Deaths Registration Act 1992 creates measures for the registration of births and deaths, and it also makes provision for someone to change the name under which his or her birth was registered.

The Act is administered by the Minister of Home Affairs.

A. Registration of births

  1. Where any child is born, any one of his parents (or person requested by the parents, or someone in charge of the child) must notify4 the Department of Home Affairs. It is an offence not to do so within 30 days of the birth.5

  2. It is an offence to furnish false information in such a notification.6

  3. If the Director-General loses, damages or destroys any document or record of which he has custody, relating to births and deaths registered by him, he commits an offence.7

  4. It is an offence to forge or counterfeit any document or record which relates to the Act and its provisions.8 Similarly, if you pretend that anything written is a copy of, or extract from, any official document or record, knowing it to be false, you commit an offence.9

B. Registration of deaths

  1. As soon as practicable, any person who was present at the death, or became aware thereof, or is placed in charge of the burial must notify the Director-General. It is an offence to fail to do so.10

  2. If the Director-General has reasonable doubt as to whether the death was from natural causes, he must inform the police, and commits an offence if he fails to do so.11

  3. If a doctor attends upon the person before his death, he must issue a certificate stating the cause of death and commits a crime if he fails to do so.12

  4. It is also a crime to put false information in such a certificate.13

  5. If the doctor is of the opinion that the cause of death was not natural, he commits an offence if, also, he does not inform the police.14

  6. Where a child is stillborn,15 the doctor (if he was present) or any person present must certify or make a declaration to the Director-General to this effect. A crime is committed if this is not done, or if false information is furnished.16

  7. It is a crime to bury any person unless:17

    • notice of the death, or still birth, has been lodged with the Director-General; and
    • the Director-General has issued a burial order.

C. Changes of name

  1. It is an offence to assume any surname other than that under which the person has been registered.18 19

  2. The Director-General may authorise a person to assume another surname, but the person commits an offence if he provides false information in the application for that authorisation.20

D. Amendments of official records

If it comes to the attention of the Director General that any particulars of a person, in the official records,21 are not correct he can rectify the record. Within a prescribed period, the person in question must return any certificate for the same rectification. It is an offence not to do this.22

  1. ‘South African Population’. StatsSA data shows 38.631 million, but the disparity may be due to the inclusion (or exclusion) of the former so-called ‘homelands’. See ‘Population’. 

  2. – ‘Population’. 

  3. According to the Minister of Home Affairs. See – ‘Address by the Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba MP, to the Birth Registration Indaba’. This was on 4 December 2015. 

  4. This notification – as is the case with only statutory notifications – is in the form and with details prescribed by regulation. 

  5. Section 9(1) read with section 4 and section 31(1)(a). 

  6. Section 9(1) read with section 31(1)(b). 

  7. Section 5 read with section 31(1)(c). 

  8. Section 31(1)(d). 

  9. Section 31(1)(e). 

  10. Section 14(1)(a) read with section 15(1), section 15(2) and section 31(1)(a). 

  11. Section 14(3) read with section 31(1)(a). 

  12. Section 15(1) read with section 31(1)(a). 

  13. Section 15(1) read with section 31(1)(b). 

  14. Section 15(3) read with section 31(1)(a). 

  15. This does not apply where their life was less than 26 weeks. 

  16. Section 18(1) and section 18(2), section 31(1)(a) and section 31(1)(b). 

  17. Section 20(1) read with section 4 and section 31(1)(a). 

  18. This does not apply to a woman, upon marriage and upon divorce. 

  19. Section 26(1) read with section 31(1)(a). 

  20. Section 26(2) read with section 31(1)(b). 

  21. Whether in documents submitted in terms of the Act, or in the population register. 

  22. Section 31(1)(g).