The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is accused of continuing to illegally delay or ignore applications by transgender or intersex people to change their gender in their identity documents.

Trans and intersex activists say that there is a huge backlog of applications that are not being processed. This despite a 2003 amendment to the law which saw South Africa become one of the first countries to allow people to legally change their gender identity without having to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

Some people, such as Jacqui Louw (41) from Cape Town, who had undergone gender reassignment surgery, was forced to obtain a court order in May against home affairs in order to have the gender changed in her identity document after a two year wait.

According to Sibusiso Kheswa, Advocacy Coordinator at Gender DynamiX, the problem appears to have come about because the DHA has, almost ten years later, still not adopted internal regulations on how to implement the 2003 act.

The situation is especially difficult for those who haven’t had gender reassignment surgery. “The DHA officials interpret the law by themselves and demand surgery and send people back because they don’t have surgery,” Kheswa told Mambaonline.

“Some people applied in 2009 and are still waiting. Some people have given up. Some people have approached the human rights commission. The result is that you cannot access banks, you cannot leave the country because you need a passport with the correct gender, and you cannot apply for a job without an ID.”

Kheswa said that an additional problem is that only one change to an ID book can be applied for at a time. This means that one can apply for a gender change, wait possibly years for the change to be made, and only then re-apply for a name change, which could take just as long.

“They won’t give you a temporary document explaining that you are waiting for the gender change. Your life becomes a complete misery,” added Kheswa

In November 2011, Gender DynamiX managed to secure a meeting with the department in connection with the application backlog. Legal advisors from the Women’s Legal Centre, supporting Gender DynamiX, met with the legal department of the DHA, where it was agreed that it would clear the backlog by 20 April 2012.

Six months later, the DHA has not fulfilled its promise. Kheswa said Gender DynamiX does not believe that the department, dogged for years by claims of incompetence and corruption, is transphobic per-se but is “simply being the department. They told us in the 2011 meeting that implementing the law had not been a priority”.

Gender DynamiX has now written to the Portfolio Committee On Home Affairs in parliament. “If this doesn’t yield positive results we will have no choice but to go court,” said Kheswa.

Mambaonline contacted the DHA spokesperson via e-mail and telephonically for comment but had not received a reply at the time of writing.

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