The Rundown on Conducting Background Checks in South Africa

Posted: January 08, 2021

The Rundown on Conducting Background Checks in South Africa

South Africa, which is located on the southernmost part of the African continent, is made up of three capital cities – South Pretoria, home to the executive branch, Bloemfontein, home to the judicial branch and Cape Town, home to the judicial branch.

Background checks in South Africa have increased in popularity in recent years as occurrences of resume/CV fraud have increased. Companies conducting business in South Africa now rely on background checks to reduce liability and to protect their brands and workforces.

Here are a few considerations to take into account while conducting South Africa Background Checks:

  • South Africa has a very high crime rate combined with a low conviction rate so criminal record checks alone may not be enough to get a clear picture of an applicant’s background. This means that is may be necessary to combine multiple background check products, including criminal record searches, employment history verification, educational degree verification, etc.
  • South African labor laws dictate that background checks must be related to the job that an applicant is applying for, so, if a person has a criminal record for driving for under the influence, he or she can be disqualified from driver position, but this conviction would be considered irrelevant if the person was applying for a job as a store clerk.
  • When collecting information for background screening purposes, it is necessary to get consent from the applicant prior to processing personal information.
  • In South Africa, Criminal Record Checks are mainly used for employment purposes while the Police Clearance certificate is mainly used for immigration and visa purposes.

Legal Issues When Conducting South Africa Background Checks

Companies conducting background checks in South Africa need to be aware of the legal landscape. In particular, the National Qualifications Framework Amendment Act 12 of 2019 prevents applicants from misrepresenting qualifications on their job applications. The legislation allows for SAQA (South African Qualifications Authority) to establish and maintain registers of misrepresented and fraudulent qualification, along with a “name and shame” process. There may be harsh consequences for a job applicant who lies about their qualifications in South Africa.

Another important piece of legislation pertaining to background checks in South Africa is the Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998 (EEA), which promotes fair and equal treatment in employment, and prevents discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, pregnancy, marital status, family responsibility, ethnic or social origin, color, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, HIV status, conscience, belief, political opinion, culture, language and birth.

Data Privacy in South Africa

South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act (No. 4 of 2013), also known as the POPI Act, is in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Companies conducting background checks in South Africa will face extensive penalties for noncompliance with the POPI Act so it is critical that they thoroughly understand the legislation.

The POPI Act defines personal information as race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, address information and medical, financial, criminal, education or employment history. The act governs the rights to privacy by dictating that there is no haphazard or random collection of personal information, there is correct sharing of personal information, there is correct retention or destruction of personal information and it determines the reason for the collection of personal information.

The POPI Act outlines several principles, including Accountability, Processing Limitation, Purpose Specification, Further Processing Limitation, Information Quality, Openness, Security Safeguards and Data Subject Participation.

South Africa’s Criminal Records Checks

Criminal Record Checks in South Africa, which are commonly referred to as Criminal History Searches, AFISwitch criminal record checks or AFIS checks, are the most common background checks conducted in South Africa. These searches, which are performed for permanent, contract or volunteer positions, are used by potential employers to understand a candidate’s employment history and character. Through a 15-year contracts, SAPS has been designated the holder of all criminal data in South Africa and AFISwitch is the sole supplier to provide the information to the public.

Criminal Records Checks are conducted through the AFIS, or the Automated Fingerprint Identification Service, which is the database that is searched during the AFIS criminal check. In the event that the candidate has no criminal record, AFISwitch returns a report indicating “no illicit activity identified.” If there is a match found with the AFISwitch system, it sends a “SAPS Verification Requested” report and asks if the applicant requires further information.

South Africa’s National Credit Act

The individual credit report provides a summary of an individual’s credit history. Other information provided in the report will include information on the individual’s bad debt and collections, trade account information, bankruptcies and court liens or judgments. The South African National Credit Act dictates that Consumer Credit Records, commonly known as credit checks, can only conducted on people applying for positions that require honesty because they handle cash or manage finances. It also requires that consent is obtained from the candidate prior to the conducting a credit check.

It is also important to note that in August 2019, a new Credit Amendment Bill was signed that allowed 9.5 million South Africans to have their debt written off, meaning that historical information on credit reports in South Africa may be limited.

Here are a few other background check products available in South Africa:

  • South Africa Civil Records Search – This search is conducted at the local level through county court judgments. Report may include case type, file date, case number, name of court where case was filed, plaintiff, defendant and disposition if a case can be located. Requirements: Full name, date of birth, address, SA ID #.
  • Professional License Verification – This search verifies the individual’s claimed license. Most often, the Professional License Verification simply provides the current status of the license claimed; however, other details such as license number, date of issuance, expiration and disciplinary action will be provided when available.
  • South Africa Bankruptcy Records Search – This search is conducted at the local level through the court based on the jurisdiction of the address provided. Report may include file date, case number, name of court where case was filed and case status if a bankruptcy case can be located. Requirements: Full name, date of birth, SA ID#, and release form.
  • Education Degree Verification in South Africa – In South Africa it is common to verify only the highest degree obtained by a candidate. Educational institutions will be contacted to verify dates of attendance, graduation date and degree information. Requirements: Name, date of birth, school name, degree, major, dates of attendance, city of school, degree copy and release form.
  • Employment Verification in South Africa – Employers will be contacted to verify the individual’s title, dates of employment and if the candidate is eligible for rehire. Typically, employment verifications do not extend beyond a 7-year time frame absent a legal or regulatory requirement to obtain that information. Current employers will only be contacted with express consent from the applicant. Requirements: Name, date of birth, employer name and contact information, dates of employment, position held and release form.
  • Reference Checks in South Africa – Requirements: Applicant name and date of birth, reference’s relationship, contact name and contact information (including phone number and email address).
  • Motor Vehicle Records – Currently, employers can verify the validity of a driver’s license and public driving permit, but this could add to the administration requirements of the HR department. Requirements: Full name, date of birth, SA ID#, and release form
  • Global Monitor Check – The Global Monitor Check (GMC) is database product that searches a variety of databases. Requirements: Name, date of birth, address.
  • ID Check in South Africa – A validation and/or verification of the data subject’s identity documents. Requirements: Name, DOB, Address, Consent Form, Identification Card Color Copy (Front and Back).
  • Directorship Check in South Africa – A search to determine if a candidate had fiduciary or board of directors’ responsibilities for a company. Requirements: Name, date of birth, address, passport copy, company name where directorship was held, company address, In-Country Residence History Form.
  • Professional Reference Checks – This search is conducted via telephone (or at times e-mail) with the individual’s personal or professional references using a standard list of questions.

For more information on conducting South Africa background checks, or for information on international background checks in general, please feel free to reach out to the Info Cubic team at (877) 360-4636.

It is important to note that the preceding is offered as general educational information and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Given the intricacies of the pertinent laws and regulations, consultation with qualified legal counsel is recommended.