The Department of Home Affairs has identified 500 fraudulent passports in the last three financial years – with 185 documents blocked in 2022 alone.

Responding to a written parliamentary Q&A this week, home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that his department is escalating its fight against fraudsters and is boosting security measures in place to flag fake documents.

The minister said that each time an investigation uncovered one of the 500 fraudulently issued passports, the passport numbers were blocked on the National Population Register so that the holders were unable to use them.

These numbers were also referred for V-listing on the Movement Control System, he said, which means that should the holders of the fraudulent documents attempt to use them at a port of entry, immigration officers are alerted.

Since January 2022, 185 passports have been investigated, with the passport numbers blocked on the register and, placed on the V-Stoplist.

The lack of security around South Africa’s passports has made headlines in 2022, with an internet joke about “Lebogang Ndlovu from Bangladesh” spreading on local social media.

The joke arose from incidents where home affairs officials were arrested for fraudulently processing illegal immigrants and where Bangladeshi and Pakistani citizens were caught using false South African passports abroad.

In August, Motsoaledi said that his department would rescind some “luxuries” afforded to South Africans to tighten up passport security.

This includes removing the ability for anyone to pick up a passport on an applicant’s behalf or having passports shipped for collection to other parts of the country. The changes are:

  • A passport can only be collected strictly from the office where it was applied for, whereas previously, you could collect it from any office in the country.
  • Only the person who applied for that passport can come and collect it by activating it through a fingerprint.
  • For minor children, their parents or guardians who helped them to apply for that passport will be the only ones allowed to come and collect it and activate using their own fingerprints.

Additional security measures in place include:

  • The Director-General of the Department of Home Affairs signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Interpol on 29 July 2022 on reporting lost and stolen passports.
  • South Africa is a signatory to the Convention on International Civil Aviation Origination (ICAO) and is subjected to regular audits, including on how it handles lost and stolen passports.
  • The Department has also revised its Standard Operating Procedures, Manuals and Policies regarding lost and stolen passports, and these are being implemented.

The minister said that these measures are part of the first phase in a three-phase process. The second and third phases are still to take place, with the second only being publicly announced once the required technologies and systems are in place, while the third will remain secret to prevent fraudsters from exploiting it.

In March 2022, the department arrested several Pakistani and Somalian citizens, together with an equal number of South African citizens, who were involved in passport fraud.

to date, 12 home affairs officials have been charged with misconduct with eight dismissals, while the remainder are still pending disciplinary hearings.

The officials and members of the public involved have also been charged criminally for fraud, corruption, money laundering, racketeering and contravention of the Immigration Act, with the cases still pending in court.

Read: How criminals make a mockery of passport security in South Africa