Answer to a question from a reader

Will my child have all the benefits of being South African if I give them my foreign partner's surname?

The short answer

Yes, they should if at least one parent is a South African citizen.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

I am a South African having a child with a foreigner. I want to give my child his surname but I'm afraid it might be of disadvantage to my child. Would they still get all the benefits of being South African?

The long answer

If at least one of a child’s parents is South African, the child is automatically South African and entitled to all the rights of citizenship.

Names are important. 

As Acting Justice Margaret Victor wrote in a Constitutional Court judgment in 2021 (giving unmarried fathers the right to register the birth of their children under their surnames as well as mothers), “A surname connects us to our heritage, and roots us in history and family tradition. In many African cultures, names not only connect a person to their immediate family, but also convey a spiritual connection to one’s broader community, clan, and ancestors.”

As your child will be a South African citizen, the child cannot be legally discriminated against for having a foreign surname, but that is not to say there isn’t a great deal of xenophobic and anti-foreigner feeling in South Africa.

It’s a decision that you and the child’s father should weigh up together. You could also ask the following organisation for advice:

  • The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town


Tel: 021 465 6433

Wishing you the best,

Answered on March 3, 2022, 3:43 p.m.

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