On just two days last week, home affairs registered 10,852 deaths: Motsoaledi

'We believe it is going to get worse,' says home affairs minister as department is inundated with applications for death certificates

13 January 2021 - 06:00
By Amanda Khoza
On January 4 and 5, the first two working days of 2021, home affairs registered 10,852 deaths.
Image: 123RF/Fernando Gregory Milan On January 4 and 5, the first two working days of 2021, home affairs registered 10,852 deaths.

In December last year, home affairs officials registered 55,676 deaths — more than one-and-a-half times what was registered in the previous two years.

And, says home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi, the picture for January this year looks even bleaker. In just two days last week, with the coronavirus surging across SA, nearly 11,000 deaths were registered.

Motsoaledi released the figures at a media briefing on Tuesday after President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement the night before that the country would remain on lockdown level 3 — with some additional regulations — until mid-February.

Statistics from January 1 to date have been alarming, the minister said.

Between March and December last year, 532 staff members in the civic branch tested positive for Covid-19 — but in the first eight days of January, “we already had 116 staff members who tested positive”, said Motsoaledi. These were mainly employees from KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape.

He said in the first 10 days of 2021, the department had already lost seven front-office employees.

“This is happening all while the issuing of death certificates has increased exponentially in the month of December. All indications are that in January we will have even more deaths registration than we had in December.

“On January 4 and 5, the first two working days of the year, home affairs has already registered 10,852 deaths. So if this trends and numbers are going upwards suggesting that there is even going to be a greater demand for death certificates that there is already, we believe it is going to get worse,” he said.

In December 2018, the department registered 36,826 deaths, the number rose to 38,620 the after year. In December 2020, the number soared to 55,676.

During the briefing, Motsoaledi announced that his department has decided to temporarily suspend some services until further notice.

These include:

  • applications for smart IDs, except for matriculants;
  • applications for passports, except for people permitted to travel under the amended regulations;
  • marriage services and solemnisation of marriages; and
  • registration of marriages.

Motsoaledi said while this was unfortunate, the decision was guided by statistics which showed that of all the people who visit home affairs offices daily, 29% visit to collect smart IDs.

A total of 16% were new applications for smart IDs, 11% came for the issuing of birth, marriage and death certificates and 10% come to apply for temporary identification documents.

He added that the collection of IDs should not be done at home affairs unless an invitation has been extended by a text message.

“We are proposing that all birth and death certificates be registered at the health facilities where they took place,” he said.

Unfortunately, he said, not all hospitals had home affairs offices.

“Home affairs offices will continue to operate from Monday to Friday from 8am until 3pm, but we are extending our operating hours to 7pm to accommodate people who need to register births and deaths, until February 15.”

This is being done to enable funeral parlours to bury people within 72 hours, he said, adding that no-one will be allowed into home affairs offices without wearing a mask.

“Remember at the beginning of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, home affairs services were suspended to reduce the number of people who visit the offices and limit the risk of infection because social distancing is always a difficult thing to manage when there is a large number of people ...

“But as the lockdown levels were relaxed we incrementally reinstated services until  October 1 2020 when we went into lockdown level 1.”

Motsoaledi said this was when almost all the services were reinstated.

“But unfortunately the impact of what we did on October 1 had the effect of taking us back to pre-Covid days where huge crowds gather at home affair offices without observing any of the protocols, especially social distancing.”

At the beginning of December senior managers of department including the minister and the deputy minister visited the department's major offices in all nine provinces to monitor adherence to Covid-19 protocols.

“It became clear that inside the offices, some form of protocol was adhered to but outside, it was a nightmare. Regardless of the markings, people just did not observe them,” he said, adding that when managers tried to enforce the rules, this was done momentarily.

“We thought that this situation would improve with time as people got used to protocols on Covid-19. Unfortunately, the situation of not observing protocols, especially social distancing, got worse and it did so at a time when the spread of the new variant was accelerating much faster than it did during the first phase of the pandemic,” he said.

Earlier at the same briefing, co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma announced that all gatherings apart from funerals were still prohibited, along with night clubs and lifestyle establishments.

Dlamini-Zuma said that, among others, social, political, traditional council and faith based organisation meetings were still prohibited. The sale and distribution of liquor was not allowed and beaches, public parks and dams continue to be closed.

The level 3 regulations will be reviewed on February 15.