South Africa's Department of Home Affairs has been taken offline nationwide, apparently because of a mainframe failure.

The Department has blamed the State IT Agency (SITA), a government-owned organization which provides IT services to public sector bodies.

South_Africa_Health_Minister_Aaron_Motsoaledi International AIDS Society Rogan Ward cropped
Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi – International AIDS Society/Rogan Ward/Wikimedia

“The Department of Home Affairs wishes to regrettably alert citizens that its services are not available at the moment due to a technical problem on the State Information Technology Agency mainframe, which affects access to the National Population Register,” according to a government statement.

The Department said SITA technicians and engineers are "attending to the matter. We hope that this will not take long to be resolved.”

Opposition politicians demanded Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi resolve the issue and criticized the Department's record.

The Democratic Alliance spokesperson on Home Affairs, Angel Khanyile, said: “This continues to happen, where the Department is unable to deliver services due to its system being offline. We are being inundated with calls from applicants who wish to travel abroad but are unable to as they have not received their passports.”

Home Affairs runs on IBM System Z mainframes operated by SITA. BizCommunity reports that SITA has been inviting third parties to tender for mainframe upgrades, including changes to the IBM storage units.

SITA has reportedly planned to train 10 Home Affairs staff on the system configuration to give the agency a measure of independence and reported that its data center modernization program was "on track" in its 2023-2024 performance plan.

The Agency was instructed in 2020, by then Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, to upgrade to a minimum standard of reliability equivalent to Uptime's Tier III - a necessary step given South Africa's well-known power supply issues.

The Agency's data center modernization program is "on track," SITA's acting managing director Molatlhegi Kgauwe said in the performance plan. "This last phase (phase 3) of the SITA data modernization program includes the upgrade of the existing Centurion and Beta data center facilities to a minimum of Tier III standard, measured by design and operation."

Home Affairs Minister Motsoaledi has been critical of SITA in the past. In 2021, plagued by outages, he asked the National Treasury for permission to switch from SITA to a private provider, according to MyBroadband. At the time, he said SITA's services were the “original sin” of Home Affairs - the source of problems which other departments could survive but which would cripple Home Affairs.

In return, then-head of SITA Luvuyo Keyise said Home Affairs' problems were due to the Department's stinginess and ineptitude. The site said Keyise said Home Affairs was cutting corners by signing for a cheap IT service with a low service level agreement.

Home Affairs had a major outage in February 2023 and, like other South African organizations, has suffered regular power outages.

"One of the greatest ironies of the South African context relating to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is the premise that industrialization rests on a supply of energy, power, and electricity," said Kgauws in SITA's performance plan. "Our electricity provisioning challenges are well documented, and we are all aware that our government is seized with the major challenge of stabilizing energy supply for industries and households. Within the ICT sector, one of our tasks is to mitigate the effects of intermittent power supply to ensure the delivery of reliable and consistent services by investing in alternative sources of energy, as the cost of fuel to power generators for our data centers has proven to be exorbitant."