To coincide with International Nelson Mandela Day, celebrated each year on the former statesman’s birthday, Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor on Thursday officially launched the country's new identification (ID) smart cards at a ceremony at the Union Buildings, in Pretoria.
Senior members of government and several prominent players in South Africa’s political history were issued with their new ID cards, including former President Mandela, whose daughter Zinzi Mandela accepted the card on her father’s behalf.
Mandela, who turned 95 on Thursday, is still in hospital recovering from a recurring lung infection.
Following the capturing of their biometric data earlier this year, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, former President Thabo Mbeki, women’s rights activist Sophie du Bruyn and one of Mandela's fellow Rivonia trialists, Ahmed Kathrada, also received their new ID cards at the launch ceremony.
Pandor said at the launch that the ID card coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the Rivonia Trial, and represented an effort by government to consolidate the efforts that had started in 1994 to deepen and restore the national identity, citizenship and dignity of South Africans.
“Today we are prioritising the Mandela generation – those veterans in their 80s and 90s – who we wish to honour while they are with us in person, and while they can reflect with us on the roles they play in opposing the various apartheid measures that denied South Africans their rightful place in society,” she said.
Other political veterans to be issued with cards on Thursday, in absentia, included former President FW de Klerk, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Mandela’s wife Graca Machel, and struggle veterans Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Andrew Mlangeni and Dennis Goldberg.
Pandor added that plans for delivery of the new cards to the broader public would be announced soon.
“We will start with young South Africans who are first-time applicants for IDs, as well as senior citizens. To avoid a rush, applicants will be invited to our offices in stages according to their dates of birth,” she commented.
The Department of Home Affairs said earlier this month that it was in the process of retrofitting 27 regional offices with technology capable of performing the live capture of applicants’ information, and that it would take between six and eight years for all South Africans to receive the new cards.
“We are going to massively expand the number of offices in 2014 to over 140 and more in the years after that,” the Minister said.
The new card would offer increased security, as its physical and safety features made it almost impenetrable. Security features on the card body included holograms and laser engraving of personal details, which would enable visual verification of the card and the easy identification of tampered cards.
Fingerprint biometrics and biographic data would also be embedded on the 80-kilobyte card chip.