Document Type

Migration Policy Series

Publication Date



Balsillie School of International Affairs


The South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is responsible for the implementation and management of migration policy and legislation, as well as the registration of births, marriages and deaths and the issuing of identity documents and passports. It is often criticised in the media and in private conversation for being administratively inefficient, cumbersome and unwieldy. South African and foreign customers reportedly regularly complain about the poor quality of services delivered by the Department. Such evidence and media reporting underpins the widelyheld belief that the Department is not easily accessible, is unresponsive to the needs of its customers, is riddled with corruption and, to the extent that systems are in place to provide efficient and quality services, is poorly managed.

In recent years, the DHA has also been plagued by a number of incidents of corruption and mismanagement and a protracted and controversial process of drafting new immigration legislation. At the same time, several incidents were reported that suggested there was significant tension between former IFP Home Affairs Minister Buthelezi and the ANC Director-General of Home Affairs. These factors contributed to the general sense that the Department was in disarray, and had not made any progress in improving its ability to deliver services in a timely manner, or towards living up to the criteria set out in the Departmental Standards brochure published in 1997.

The Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) therefore proposed to test current per ceptions of the Department through a study of the quality of services delivered: the Services Quality Survey (SQS) project. In SAMP’s view, the value of implementing such a project lies in assessing and comparing the views, preferences and expectations of service consumers with those of the service providers. By developing an understanding of the constraints that hinder performance and the factors that enhance performance, the results of the SQS are intended to be used as a baseline against which to assess and benchmark current performance and service standards, and to set realistic targets and objectives to improve service delivery in the future.

In the SQS project, interviews were conducted with Departmental officials, citizens and non-citizens nationwide using structur ed questionnaires. The questionnaires administered to citizens and non-citizens were largely the same, though non-citizens were also asked about their country of origin, their reason for entering the country, and how frequently they visited South Africa. The questionnaire administered to officials included questions about length of service, job satisfaction, knowledge of policies and legislation administered by the Department, national ser vice standards principles such as Batho Pele, and internal Departmental regulations and procedures. Inter views with officials, citizens and non-citizens were conducted in and around the offices of the Department that had been pre-selected in each province. At the completion of the fieldwork component of the survey, 179 officials, 2 120 citizens and 968 non-citizens had been interviewed.

The SQS first sought to establish the level of familiarity that officials have with key legislation, policies administered by the Department and their impact on service delivery, as well as knowledge of internal Departmental policies and regulations:

  • Nearly 40% of officials indicated that they were “unfamiliar” with the Immigration Act of 2002. Of these, 66% had been employed by the DHA for six years or more.
  • An even higher 60% of officials said they were unfamiliar with the Refugees Act of 1998. This included officials at offices where staff were most likely to come into contact with asylumseekers: 53% of officials at Border Posts and 55% at Airports.
  • Officials are more familiar with the national Batho Pele Principles of 1998, perhaps due to widespread advertising and visibility in DHA Offices. Nearly 90% were familiar with the Batho Pele principles. However, when asked to list some of Batho Pele’s most important principles, many were unable to mention them directly.
  • With regard to the Home Affairs Turnaround Strategy launched in October of 2003, only 40% of officials had heard of the Strategy.

One of the central aims of the SQS was to compare customer perceptions about the DHA with those of officials working within the Department. Amongst the most frequent anecdotal complaints heard about the DHA is that office locations are inaccessible, infrastructur e and physical conditions are poor, and resources, in terms of facilities and available equipment, are limited. When asked about proximity to, and accessibility of, DHA offices, the majority of citizens (86%) reported that it took less than one hour of travel to arrive at the office where the interview took place. The majority of citizens either traveled by taxi (42%), drove in their own car (19%) or walked (19%) to the office. Amongst non-citizens, 94% of those visiting an office, as opposed to passing through a border post or airport, were able to reach the DHA in one hour or less. Some 83% of non-citizens interviewed at a Regional Office and 73% of those at District Offices were able to reach the DHA in one hour or less.

A second common complaint about the DHA is a lack of good customer service, often linked to negative attitudes of officials at the front line of interactions with the public. As one of the main focuses of the Survey, officials and customers were asked about their perceptions and experiences of service delivery in the DHA. In answering a range of questions about customer service, the majority of respondents were surprisingly positive: they felt that they were treated fairly, there was little discrimination in terms of how different groups were treated, and officials were interested in hearing what they thought.

Officials and customers sampled were asked a series of questions closely linked to the Batho Pele Principles, which address service delivery issues such as consultation on service quality and choice, information, access, courtesy in treatment, transparency, redress, and value for money. Here, while it was apparent that officials and customers were aware of the Batho Pele programme, familiarity with its principles, and the extent to which the Department was implementing these principles, was not as good.

To further understand how DHA customers are treated, specific questions were asked about perceptions of the attitudes of Departmental staff. Official, citizen and non-citizen respondents were asked whether DHA staff within the office where the interview took place were: friendly or unfriendly, attentive or inattentive, cooperative or uncooperative, patient or impatient, helpful or unhelpful, considerate or inconsiderate, polite or impolite, at ease or anxious, honest or misleading, trusting or suspicious, knowledgeable or not knowledgeable, and interested or not interested in their jobs. Across the citizens and non-citizens sampled, the results of the survey show that customers felt the attitudes of DHA staff were extremely positive overall. Interestingly, officials themselves were somewhat less positive about the attitudes of DHA staff.

Customers were asked a series of questions on their experiences with service delivery at the DHA on the day they were interviewed, as this was thought to have a likely impact on whether respondents viewed the Department positively or negatively overall. Rates of satisfaction with the customer service received were also consistently high, with 87% of citizens and 92% of non-citizens reporting that they were satisfied with the level of service they had received. Similarly, 85% of citizens and 92% of non-citizens responded that they were satisfied with their overall experience as a customer at the Department of Home Affairs on the day they were interviewed.

In addition to examining satisfaction levels on the day they were interviewed, customers and officials were asked more generally about their opinions on the current performance of the DHA. Again, in terms of overall performance, efficiency, fair treatment and general satisfaction with service delivery, the majority of customers expressed positive views. Similarly, in terms of levels of corruption and trustworthiness, very few customers and officials believe that corruption is a widespread problem. At the same time, customers and officials expressed a low level of tolerance for practices that might constitute or lead to corruption, though non-citizens appear to have a slightly higher level of tolerance for such practices. Very few respondents reported actual experiences of corruption, either directly or indirectly.

In overall terms, the survey results suggest that perhaps the DHA is not in such a crisis in terms of service delivery, customer relations, and attitudes of staff. The customers sampled were positively disposed towards the Department, and were optimistic regarding its ability to continue delivering quality services. It is not possible to explain exactly why these findings are so inconsistent with media depictions, anecdotal evidence of broader public opinion, and the negative assessment made by the Director-General himself. However, it is important to understand the contextual factors that may have contributed to shaping the opinions and perceptions of the respondents. Further, the positive results of the survey do not mean that there are no problems or issues to be addressed within Home Affairs. Although the results of the survey indicate a higher quality of service delivery than perhaps originally anticipated, the question to ask is whether there are measures that the DHA can take to further enhance the positive perceptions of its customers and officials and to improve service delivery.

Finally, the results presented in this report provide baseline data and a benchmark against which to measure the future performance of the Department, particularly in terms of levels of customer satisfaction with service quality. One of the key recommendations made in this report is that consideration should be given to administering a similar survey at regular intervals as a means of continuous assessment and as a basis for ongoing efforts to improve performance and the quality of services.