The Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled positively for South African citizens who lost their citizenship automatically when acquiring citizenship of another country. The court ruled that the section of the South African Citizenship Act that has seen SA citizenship holders lose their citizenship contradicts the Constitution.
Citizens Who Lost South African Citizenship Now Considered Never Lost
In a unanimous decision, the court also declared that those South Africans who lost their citizenship due to this since 1995 are now considered to have never lost their citizenship.
Democratic Alliance Challenges Legislation
The Democratic Alliance, which initially had its arguments dismissed by the Pretoria High Court, brought the challenge against this legislation, and was later granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The DA referenced Phillip Plaatjes, a South African residing in the United Kingdom, who married a British citizen. He became a naturalised citizen of the UK in 2007, while still traveling on his South African passport. However, in 2015, when Plaatjes went to the South African embassy in London to renew his passport, he was informed that he had “automatically” lost his citizenship upon acquiring British citizenship. His passport was subsequently cancelled.
Home Affairs Defence Found Lacking
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi opposed the application, with his lawyers stating that the loss of citizenship was a result of the Plaatjes voluntary act, not the State’s, and that the Act also provided opportunities for citizens to apply if they wished to keep their South African citizenship.
Judge Dumisani Zondi, speaking on behalf of the Supreme Court of Appeal, said that the minister’s lawyers failed to identify a legitimate government purpose that the Act was trying to achieve, apart from a general statement claiming its purpose was to regulate the acquisition and loss of South African citizenship.
By declaring the section unconstitutional and applying this ruling retroactively to 1995, Judge Zondi stated that others in situations like Plaatjes should “benefit from restoration without the need for further litigation.”
Written by Simon Carletti, PR and Creative Supervisor