Automatic loss of SA citizenship unconstitutional
The SCA has dismissed the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) order which stripped South Africans living abroad of their citizenship. It ruled that legislation, which led to the loss of SA citizenship when acquiring other citizenship, was irrational and unconstitutional.
A News24 report says the DA took the Department of Home Affairs to court regarding the ‘draconian piece of apartheid legislation’, which stated individuals would cease to be SA citizens if they acquired the citizenship or nationality of another country through a voluntary and formal act other than marriage.
In terms of the legislation, citizens had been required to get permission from the Home Affairs Minister to retain their citizenship.
The DA challenged the constitutionality of section 6(1)(a) of the South African Citizenship Act on behalf of South Africans who unknowingly lost their citizenship after acquiring second citizenship in other countries.
SCA Judge Dumisani Zondi said in his ruling: ‘The Act simply fails to provide a coherent basis as to how dual citizenship may be recognised as permissible and unobjectionable, but also warrants the drastic consequence of the loss of South African citizenship in terms of s 6(1), save for the exercise of Ministerial discretion. The statutory scheme is indefensible and the impugned provision is irrational.’
The News24 report says Judges Ashton Schippers, Elias Matojane, Fayeeza Kathree-Setiloane and David Unterhalter concurred with Zondi’s judgment.
His ruling noted the Act took effect in 1995 when the interim Constitution was still in force. It said the Act remained in place, even after the interim Constitution was repealed by the current Constitution in 1997.
Zondi said citizenship was an important right, which brought with it many benefits.
He said: ‘To deprive persons of this right, with no regard for their individual circumstances and the reasons that they are taking out another citizenship, is both unfair and capricious. The Legislature is not against dual citizenship we were told. If that is so, why take away South African citizenship by automatic operation of law, and require that its retention depends upon the invocation of a Ministerial discretion that is entirely unspecified as to what its exercise is intended to achieve?’
Zondi found section 6(1)(a) of the Act was irrational and inconsistent with the Constitution, says the News24 report.
‘It also unjustifiably limits political rights, the right to enter and remain in the Republic, and the right to freedom of trade, occupation and profession, guaranteed by the Constitution,’ said Zondi.
He ruled the section of the Act was no longer valid and he did not impose a suspension of his order.
‘It is further declared that those citizens who lost their citizenship by operation of s 6(1)(a) of the South African Citizenship Act 88 of 1995 are deemed not to have lost their citizenship.’
Article disclaimer: While we have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of this article, it is not intended to provide final legal advice as facts and situations will differ from case to case, and therefore specific legal advice should be sought with a lawyer.