Persistently inefficient

Ms. D, a 54 year old domestic worker, first approached the Transaction Support Centre in August 2019 asking for assistance with correcting errors on her title deed – both her surname and date of birth were incorrect. The client received the property from Government in 1992, pre-democracy. It is unclear what identity document the conveyancer used at the time to prepare the transfer; the client would have likely only received a green bar-coded Identity document post-1994. Regardless, the title deed needed correction as, in its current format, the client would not be able to legally sell, transfer or leverage her property for finance due to the errors.

As per Section 4(1)(b) of the Deeds Registry Act, 47 of 1937, the Registrar “may correct an error in registration in any deed or document registered or filed in a deeds registry pertaining to: the name or the description of any person; the name or description of any property; conditions affecting such property.” [1] The application must be brought to the Deeds Office by a conveyancer acting on behalf of the client, and documentary proof of the “true state of affairs” must be provided. This is where Ms. D’s 18-month process with the Deeds Office and Home Affairs started.

The journey

The full process is outlined step-by-step in the illustration below. But, in summary, Ms. D’s application was rejected twice by the Deeds Office (DO), first because the DO wanted an unabridged birth certificate as means of proof of the client’s actual surname and date of birth. When this was received, after two separate trips to Home Affairs and a three-month wait, the conveyancer lodged a second application to the Deeds Office. This was rejected again, this time because the DO wanted to see a vault copy of the client’s birth certificate as means of proof that her personal details had changed. In July 2020, the client eventually managed to make the trip back to Home Affairs after the lockdown to apply for the vault copy. The application was submitted and she was told to wait another three months. By October 2020 when the client went to follow up on her application, she was told that vault copies still need to be requested from Pretoria. Probably in an attempt to ease the client’s distress, the Home Affairs clerk gave Ms. D another unabridged birth certificate and sent her on her way. Not one to back down, Ms. D made a fifth trip back to Home Affairs in December 2020 to follow up on the vault copy only to be told that she is in fact “too old to have a vault copy”, and that “the Deeds Office should not be looking to Home Affairs to remedy their mistakes”.

Finding resolution

At this point the TSC in consultation with our conveyancers decided that the only way to find resolution was for the conveyancer to meet with the Deeds Office examiner in-person to set out the client’s full case history and determine a way forward. Fortunately, this was successful and the Deeds Office agreed to accept the client’s unabridged birth certificate as means of proof.

After a long and convoluted 18-month process consisting of two S4(1)(b) applications by conveyancers, two Deeds Office rejections, and five separate trips to Home Affairs costing the client R22 each time in taxi fares, and one unnecessary vault copy application costing the client R75 (not an insignificant cost considering her total monthly income is R1,200), Ms. D received confirmation that her application was registered in March 2020. Finally, she would have a title deed with her correct details on it.

This case highlights the lack of synergies between Home Affairs and the Deeds Office, as well as the rather outstanding inefficiency of Home Affairs, and the resulting impact this has on indigent clients. Ms. D was ‘fortunate’ that she had the time and flexibility to do several trips to Home Affairs, but this is because she is only employed two days of the week. If she had full-time employment no doubt she would have had to take a day off work each time she needed to go back. Imagine how much more this process would have cost her then?

Going forward

While the TSC is grateful that it was able to resolve this particular case, there is clearly a need to drive systemic change within key administrative departments like the Deeds Office and Home Affairs. Improved digitisation and streamlining of processes and systems can help, but recognition of the weaknesses and flaws and a commitment to fixing them is also needed from the Departments’ leadership. As a start we hope to drive this by engaging directly with the Deeds Office for critically needed guidelines as to exactly what documentation would suffice in these circumstances. At present this is completely discretionary. Some clarity in this regard would go a long way in alleviating the evidentiary burden on indigent clients.

Authors: Lisa Hutsebaut & Jessica Breier


[1] LexisDigest. Involved intricacies. 25 August 2011. Available: