For Immediate Release: 24 March 2017
In September 2016, through an online survey, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) was approached by a number of women whose surnames had been altered on the National Population Register following the conclusion of their marriages, even though they had expressly informed the marriage officer or Department of Home Affairs Officials that they wanted to retain their surname.
On 15 March 2017, the LRC met with the Deputy Director General of Home Affairs (Civic Services), Mr Vusi Mhkize, on the instruction of the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Ms Fatima Chohan. The DDG confirmed that the Deputy Minister had undertaken a review process of internal systems within the Department that had led to the unauthorised surname changes.
The DDG confirmed that the surnames of those women represented by the LRC had been amended to reflect the choice that they had made at the time of marriage in respect of the surname currently reflected in the population register.
He further confirmed that internal training was being undertaken to ensure that staff biases and prejudice is eliminated in the capturing of information on the National Population Register. He further advised that a new system will be implemented to eliminate the unauthorised change of surnames, and that Directives had been issued to staff in October 2016 to ensure compliance and adherence with the wishes of women who enter into marriage, in respect of their choice of surname.
The LRC believes that the issue of women being able to choose to retain their maiden surnames or take their spouses’ surname after marriage goes to the heart of the right to substantive equality of women, their right to dignity and their right to make decisions concerning their own identity. These rights are in no way diminished simply because a woman has chosen to conclude a marriage.
We acknowledge and appreciate the Deputy Minister’s willingness to engage with us on the issue and for her proactive engagement within the Department to ensure the equal rights of women in marriage.
We applaud the women who came forward in fighting for their constitutional rights to equality, dignity and identity, which has led to the Department of Home Affairs taking steps to address this systematic failure within the Department. Their willingness to come forward and address the issue has not only led to their own right to equality being recognised, but also the rights of other women in the same position.