In 1949 a South African Citizenship Act came into being to create a fair and honest representation for immigrants. State citizenship, or nationality, indicates the allegiance which a citizen owes to the State and embraces specific duties, privileges and responsibilities. When Dr. T. E. Donges was piloting the South African Citizenship Act through Parliament in 1949, he declared: ‘There is an urge which exceeds and ennobles all lesser emotions, an urge which can lead to unity and not to division, and that is the urge to be a true South African, to bind together closely what is noblest and best in the heritage of everyone, and this finds its fullest expression in the proud declaration: “I am a South African citizen” Contact me if you are looking for naturalization records.

With the passing of the South African Citizenship Act on 9 September 1949 the former joint British citizenship that Union citizens shared with citizens of other Commonwealth countries disappeared. It was an important milestone in the constitutional development of South Africa, because it meant the establishment of a separate and independent citizenship for South Africa for the first time. Before 1949 the nationality of the inhabitants of countries and territories in the Commonwealth of Nations, of which South Africa, was then still a member, was specified by a set of similar rules which essentially determined who were British subjects, and how that status could be achieved by naturalisation. Local nationality, based on British nationality, was found only in Canada and South Africa. In the case of South Africa, the Union Nationality and Flags Act of 1927, which came into operation on 3rdMay 1928, not only made provision for a distinctive national flag, but also for Union citizenship.


The Citizenship Act of 1949 provides for the acquisition of South African citizenship by birth, descent, registration, resumption and naturalisation. Further provisions of the Act relate to the position of married women and the circumstances under which a South African citizen may lose his citizenship. In general it can be said that all persons born in the Republic of South Africa, Whites as well as non-Whites, are citizens by birth. There are exceptions to this rule, arising out of such situations as the person or his father being a prohibited immigrant, or the father being a representative of the government of another country at the time of the child’s birth, and so on.

Persons born outside South Africa whose fathers were British subjects born in South Africa, or naturalised in South Africa, or who became British subjects by annexation of the South African Republic (Transvaal) or the Republic of the Orange Free State, or in the service of the Union government, or British subjects domiciled in South Africa at the time, are South African citizens by descent. This includes persons who were born outside South Africa after 2 Sept. 1949, and whose birth has also been registered in South Africa.

It is interesting to note that many of the descendants of citizens of the old Republics who emigrated to Angola before the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), known as the Angola Boers, are not South African citizens by descent, because their fathers were not resident in the Republics at the time of the annexation, and accordingly did not become British subjects. On the other hand, nearly all the persons of the first generation born to citizens who emigrated to Kenya, Tanganyika and the Argentine after the Anglo-Boer War are South African citizens by descent, because their fathers became British subjects by annexation. Descendants of these emigrant groups who are not South African citizens can, however, acquire citizenship by naturalisation, should they return for permanent residence.

Citizens of the former Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State Republic by naturalisation became British subjects by annexation; or citizens who were not resident in one of the Republics at the time of annexation but who returned to South Africa before May 1928, or before 2 September 1949, became British subjects or Union nationals respectively, and are recognised as South African citizens by registration. Likewise all British subjects who became Union nationals by virtue of a two-year domicile in South Africa are also recognised as South African citizens by registration if they were still Union nationals immediately before the date of commencement of the South African Citizenship Act, 1949. The same conditions are applicable to persons naturalised in South Africa as British subjects, except that they had to be domiciled for three years instead of two.

All persons naturalised in South Africa, or who were naturalised in South-West Africa on or after 2 July 1926, are citizens by naturalisation. Those who were locally naturalised in South-West Africa before 1stJuly 1926, and who were enemy aliens at that time, ceased to be British subjects, and consequently Union nationals, when they were de-naturalised in 1942, unless they were members of the South African military forces or of the South African Police.

Although South African citizenship can presently be acquired in four ways, i.e. by birth, descent, naturalisation or resumption of former citizenship by persons who acquired citizenship of any country or territory in Africa and returned to South Africa for permanent residence, there is no difference in the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship.

The rights of a South African citizen by naturalisation or erstwhile registration differ in no way from those of a citizen by birth or descent; but citizenship achieved by naturalisation or registration can be withdrawn from a person who is convicted of certain defined crimes, or who has been absent from South Africa for a continuous period of 7 years after having acquired citizenship. South African citizenship, no matter how achieved or acquired, is automatically lost if citizenship of another country is obtained by a formal and voluntary act whilst the person is outside South Africa.

Although a woman previously acquired her husband’s citizenship by marriage, a marriage since the date of the Citizenship Act no longer has any effect on a woman’s citizenship in South Africa. If she is a South African citizen and marries a foreigner, she retains her citizenship until she relinquished it herself. An alien woman who marries a South African citizen, however, remains an alien until she herself – just as if she were a man – has obtained South African citizenship by naturalisation.

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A woman who lost her British or Union nationality before 2 September 1949 purely by marriage to an alien is reinstated as a citizen. If, therefore, she was born in South Africa or born elsewhere of South African descent, or in any manner was a Union citizen before her marriage or a British subject permanently resident in South Africa, she is a South African citizen. At the same time, every alien woman who married a South African citizen before the date mentioned, and acquired Union citizenship by virtue of the marriage, retains her full citizenship rights and is a South African citizen if she lived permanently in South Africa before that date.

A South African citizen loses his citizenship if, while living outside the Republic, he acquires citizenship of another country formerly and voluntarily, or if he relinquished his citizenship. Apart from the circumstances already mentioned under which a South African citizen may be deprived of citizenship acquired by registration or naturalisation, South African citizenship, irrespective of the manner in which it has been acquired, can be withdrawn from a citizen if, while living in South Africa, he obtains citizenship of another country, declares loyalty to another country by oath or otherwise, is also a citizen of another country and makes use of the advantages and privileges of his other citizenship, or renounces his citizenship with the intention of adopting citizenship of another country.

Persons who lose their South African citizenship as a result of the acquisition of citizenship of a country or territory in Africa (e.g. Rhodesia, Zambia, Malawi and Kenya) and who return permanently to South Africa can immediately after their return apply for resumption of citizenship.

Since 27 May 1962 citizens of the Commonwealth and of the Republic of Ireland, as a result of South Africa’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth, can no longer obtain South African citizenship by direct registration. They must apply for naturalisation certificates in the same manner as citizens of all other countries.