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If you live outside South Africa, you might recognize the term “green book” as being the title of an award-winning movie, in which a virtuoso African-American pianist tours the American Deep South in the early 60s, driven by his Italian-American driver.

Not so in South Africa — the green book has, until recently, been the traditional national identity document. Yet both movie and national ID card have a relationship to race, as the South African green book, so-called because it assumes the form of a green booklet, emerged after apartheid to confer rights to all citizens and validate their identity for the services to which they are entitled, such as registering to vote or opening a bank account.

Today, the South African green book remains in circulation but is being phased out as the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) undertakes a major drive, started in 2013, to instate the new Smart ID card.

South African National ID Card

The new smart ID card has several security features and is difficult to forge, unlike the green book. It has two means of authentication, a fingerprint and password known only to the user, and a variety of other safety mechanisms including:

Format of the Card

The South African ID number may look like a random string of numbers at first glance, but it follows a certain pattern that reflects the information of the cardholder.

The South African ID number has 13 digits in this format: YYMMDDSSSSCAZ

Where does Smile Identity come in?

Our partners use Smile Identity to validate the identity of their customers when they onboard them and run Know Your Customer checks. The most popular way of doing this is by asking the customer for their national ID number, which we check against details in the relevant database. However, we also offer the ability to accept a photo of the national ID, and passports if preferred, through our Document Verification product. In this situation, all a customer does is take a photo of their ID card, take a selfie, and we run the check — make sure that the document is authentic, the owner is the rightful one, and return the information back to our partners who complete their onboarding, and begin transacting.