South Africa is embarking on one of the most important digital projects the country has ever seen. The Home Affairs ministry seeks to digitise 350 million inactive and active paper records that consist of birth, marriage, and amendments records. In doing so, the Ministry has called upon the youth of South Africa to form part of the digital workforce that will turn hard copy print records into electronic format.
This will probably be one of the most important tech projects that will be undertaken in this country. It will be important for citizens, the youth, and the government.
South Africa has a chance to modernise its records and systems.
How SA approaches this project can catalyze many other things that include tech skills development, employment, and government efficiency. At the same time, South Africa can approach this project in a manner that will lead to failure of achieving the skills development, employment, and government efficiency objective.
There are already signs that the approach may lead to failure to achieve some of those objectives. One of the requirements of the project is that all the youth applying for the project need some qualification in information technology-related fields and that is the first error. While it’s understandable that part of this process is about enabling unemployed technology graduates to gain work-related experience there’s an assumption that there are thousands of such graduates. The truth of the matter is that there are only a few such graduates who are unemployed. It is also not necessary to just search for tech graduates for a digitisation project. It would also be ideal for the Ministry to consider matriculants with an interest in pursuing a career in the technology space. If not, the Ministry will probably run into the challenge of not filling up those positions. Ideally, this should be treated as an opportunity to absorb graduates across fields to be trained in the art of digitisation.
The second error that is committed in this process is that such graduates are expected to be based in Gauteng and North West. While it’s understandable that the Home Affairs ministry head office is in Pretoria this project presents an opportunity to upskill young people across the country and for those skills to exist across the country. These are important considerations for the Ministry to consider to achieve the objectives of enabling tech skills development and employment.
The Aaron Motsoaledi led ministry should be commended for leading in this regard and initiating such an important project. For this project to achieve the government efficiency objectives, it will require more than just the Home Affairs Ministry.
Ayabonga Cawe speaking towards the end of his show on Metro FM on the 17th of August 2022 highlighted a critical issue about government. He mentioned that although the South African government has been collecting data on its citizens there’s still a struggle for the government to access citizens’ data across departments.
Part of the broader point that Cawe was making is that the SA government has a silo approach to data management. What that means is that each department has its own database and those are not accessible to other departments. Therefore when one department sorts out its data management issues it does not necessarily mean that other departments will have access to that data. Part of that has a lot to do with what Motsoaledi department is trying to resolve. Citizens’ data currently exists in the form of print copies and it is for this reason that the digitisation project is critical for South Africa. It will enable ease of access to online records which is a necessary part of running an efficient government. This project has to go beyond just the home affairs department.
The health, safety and security, justice, and even the housing ministry should also embark on this process.
Efforts by Motsoaledi to digitise will not lead to government efficiency if other arms of government are not embarking on a similar digitisation project.
For the NHI to work, it will require digitised health records. To address failure in safety and security there’s a need to better manage criminal records by digitising them. In the Justice system there’s a need to digitise court records to efficiently deliver justice.
South Africa needs to embark on a digitisation project that will move the country from hard copy records to digitised records. The Home Affairs project should be treated as just the beginning of a digitisation revolution in the South African government. It is therefore important that Home Affairs get this process right for it to be replicated by other government departments. A successful digitisation project at Home Affairs may lead to a digital South Africa if all young people who are interested are involved, all provinces participate and all government departments embark on a digital revolution to create a digital country.