South Africa is revising its national identity system to be more inclusive and recognize different gender identities.
South Africans are assigned a 13-digit national ID number at birth. The 7th digit refers to a person’s gender using two sex choices, male or female. A seventh digit between 0 and 4 “means the holder of the ID is a female,” while a seventh digit between 5 and 9 “means the holder of the ID is a male.”
But the country will soon be adopting a “third gender.”
Earlier this year, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) published a draft of its new official identity management policy, which became open for public comment until Feb.28. The draft includes a new “X” category alongside male and female for completing the sex field on numerous official documents.
“This is the most contentious digit for non-binary or transgender persons as it does not reflect their sexual orientation or gender,” says a document on the topic, published by the government in December.
The document states that as many as 530,000 South Africans identify as non-binary.
In February, Iranti, the Human Rights Group with a specialist interest in LGBTQI+ policy, issued a statement asking the government to introduce ‘more options’ on official gender ID forms, better to reflect the trans and non-binary communities of South Africa.
The group suggested the new legislation and the population register “make a provision that enables the establishment of a category that is neither male nor female.” The statement added that “the sex category must cater for transgender [individuals] that will enable updates of sex information in the population register.”
According to Quartz Africa, any changes could take years to move through the consultation towards legislation and implementation. But, “the identity number will change to accommodate the LGBTIQ community,” Sihle Mthiyane, the Department of Home Affairs head of policy, asserted.
Not everybody is in favor of the proposed “X” category.
“Trans and gender diverse persons already face extraordinary marginalisation and discrimination, even from officials at the DHA. The creation of an ‘X’ would further perpetuate, if not worsen, the already dire position of trans persons and communities and place them at even greater risk for discrimination and violence,” Zoey Black, legal and education advocacy officer at GDX.