Answer to a question from a reader

Can I reclaim South African citizenship after receiving citizenship of another country?

The short answer

Not yet. The SCA ruled it unconstitutional to withdraw someone's citizenship, but as at 5 March 2024 the Constitional Court is yet to make its decision.

The long answer

There has been a long struggle from some ten years to restore the rights of South Africans to their citizenship after taking out citizenship in another country. 

Section 6(1) of the Citizenship Act says that an adult citizen loses their South African citizenship if they take on the citizenship of another country by a voluntary and formal act other than marriage, without first receiving permission from the Minister of Home Affairs to retain their South African citizenship.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) took the Department of Home Affairs to court on this issue nine years ago, but the High Court dismissed the application and refused leave to appeal. Thereafter the DA successfully applied to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA). The SCA ruled in June 2023 that Section 6(1)(a), which was used to withdraw citizenship, is unconstitutional and that those who had lost their citizenship through that part of the Act “are deemed not to have lost their citizenship”. 

In other words, the SCA ordered the retrospective reinstatement of citizenship to any person who lost their citizenship through Section 6(1)(a). 

However, in terms of Chapter 8, Section 165-180, Courts and Administration of Justice of the Constitution, the Constitutional Court must confirm any order of invalidity made by the Supreme Court of Appeal before that order has any force.

In terms of Section 172 (2)(d) of the Court Rules, “Any person or organ of state with a sufficient interest may appeal, or apply, directly to the Constitutional Court to confirm or vary an order of constitutional invalidity by a court in terms of this subsection.”

Home Affairs has stated that it will not be appealing the SCA judgment, but we are still waiting for the Constitutional Court’s decision. So, until the Constitutional Court confirms the SCA judgement of the unconstitutionality of Section 6(1)(a), the SCA order cannot be applied.

When it is confirmed – or amended – you could take your birth certificate, ID and passport (and it would be wise to also take some written evidence of the Concourt’s findings) to the South African Embassy where you are living, and ask them to reinstate your citizenship. 

Home Affairs would have to check the information on your documents against the National Population Register, and this could take up to eight weeks. 

In summary: You need to wait for the judgment to be confirmed or amended before your citizenship can be reinstated. Once the judgment is confirmed, you can take all your documents like ID, birth certificate and passport to the South African embassy and ask them for help. You may need to inform them of the judgment. Reinstatement of your citizenship could take up to eight weeks.

Wishing you the best,

Answered on March 27, 2024, 12:56 p.m.

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