Starting in March 2012, the South African government engaged in a massive effort of citizen registration that continued for more than a year. Nearly 19 million social welfare beneficiaries enrolled in a novel biometric identification scheme that uses fingerprints and voice recognition to authenticate social grant recipients. This article seeks to understand the meaning of biometric technology in post-apartheid South African welfare through a study of the bureaucratic and policy elite's motivation. It argues that biometric technology was conceived of and implemented as the most recent in a series of institutional, infrastructural and policy reforms that seek to deliver welfare in a standardised and objective manner. This has, at times, been driven by a false faith in technical efficacy and has involved a playing down of the differential political implications of biometric welfare identification.