The Supreme Court of Appeal held in June 2023 that section 6(1)(a) of the South African Citizenship Act, 1995 by which South African citizenship is lost when acquiring citizenship of another country is constitutionally irrational and invalid . The section was declared invalid and citizens who lost their citizenship by operation of section 6(1)(a) are deemed not to have lost their citizenship.
Section 3(3) of the Constitution, which came into effect on 6 October 1995, provides that citizenship can be acquired by birth, descent, naturalisation or by grant by the Minister of a certificate of naturalisation to any foreigner who meets certain specified requirements.
The court was unable to find any legitimate government purpose which section 6(1)(a) seeks to achieve by the cessation of citizenship when a South African citizen formally acquires the citizenship of another country. The fact that citizens can under section 6(2) retain their South African citizenship on application to the Minister underscores the arbitrariness and irrationality of the provision. The section treated citizens who already had dual citizenship differently from those who intended to acquire citizenship or nationally of another country. There is no rationale for why an individual adult citizen who applies for the citizenship of another country must by operation of law lose their South African citizenship.
Section 20 of the Constitution stipulates that “no citizen may be deprived of citizenship”. The purpose of section 20, among other things, is to prevent the denial of citizenship that may arise in any manner other than renunciation under section 7 of the Act. Citizenship is a gateway to political rights, to freedom of movement and residence and to freedom of trade, occupation and profession. Deprivation of citizenship therefore creates the risk of being denied those constitutional guarantees, which cannot depend on the decision of the Minister with wide and unconstrained discretion to allow or refuse South African citizenship.