Under the watchful and ever-lazy eye of Jacob Zuma, they toil. His mug beams down upon them along with the unknown (to me at least) Fatima Chohan who serves as the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs.
It is not for the faint-hearted being a Home Affairs employee. Their place of work is usually hot, stuffy and packed with bodies all radiating heat and irritation. They would be forgiven for being lethargic, lacking passion and over-shooting their breaks. But none of this is true – not where we visit at any rate.
If there is indeed a hell I imagine it will be just like Home Affairs. The place has all the characteristics of Dante’s Inferno; it is mercilessly hot, one glimpses eternity and it is utterly devoid of all soul. Now, it is bad enough going to such a place once every decade or so to renew a passport or replace a stolen ID, but just imagine the torture of working there every day of your life!
In the case of the Home Affairs office we visit, we learn that you must get there no later than 5:00am if you wish to secure a place in the queue. Now this is early – especially If you are renewing your 6-year-old child’s passport too. Even then, by the time you get into the waiting hall itself – a largish room with metal seats – it is well after 8:00am.
The staff are in place and waiting for the onslaught; several hundred people all in various stages of physical and mental breakdown and emotional despair. By the way, this breakdown includes severe dehydration because there are no toilets for public use at Home Affairs Kwa-Dukuza. Consequently, nobody drinks anything even in the searing heat. By the time we get our work done it is well after 11:00am. So, we have neither drunk nor peed for 6 odd hours since leaving home. For others this must be 10 hours at least. It is inhumane and needs urgent addressing.
I wonder how long a Home Affairs worker lasts in their job? To have to deal with people in these conditions day in and day out must take its toll in a big way. They are getting it from all sides.
By the way, if you are moneyed you can avoid the whole queuing annoyance altogether. What we noticed is that well off folk pay someone else to queue for them. Then they pull up in their SUV’s just before 8:00am and dismiss the hot and hapless person queuing for them and take their place, slipping them a few bucks for their efforts. We saw this happen many times. Suffice to say it doesn’t breed very good camaraderie between classes.
After the information guy and the photo/fingerprints gent, we deal with 3 people who are at the business end of the applications. I am guessing that these are the employees that take the brunt of people’s wrath because they are the ones that must inform you that despite your gruelling 6-hour wait you will have to come back because you have forgotten something vital like a certified copy of your deceased father’s underpants. However, this is when the excellence really kicks in.
We complete our daughter’s application in double quick time and are then passed efficiently to another person because the first person’s computer is suddenly on a go slow. Even this is a surprise. Surely at Home Affairs they just wait out the go slow? No. They make a plan. The second person is all over my application. It is complete in about 5 minutes flat. But then it comes: “Do you have R140 on you?”. I respond suspiciously by saying we have paid online and demand to know why he needs more money? “Because I see you haven’t done your photocard ID yet Sir, and we have all your information here for your passport application. If you can pay the amount, I can get my Supervisor to authorise it here and now.”
The Supervisor – a friendly lady who takes real flack when dealing with the people in the queue – does not hesitate to assist. Within 5 minutes I have been e-mailed proof of application for both my passport and my ID. I thank him most sincerely: “This is Home Affairs and we are doing our best” he replies humbly.
I want to publicly honour the staff of the Kwa-Dukuza Home Affairs office in particular Nkosinathi Ngwane, Nirasha Gopee and Supervisor Suraifa Abdool. Like so many people in our country, they go above and beyond to serve the citizens of our nation. Next time you find yourself in Home Affairs, join the queue with all the rest of us and remember to thank those people whose hot and thankless job it is to man the gates of hell.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter
I have been reluctant to weigh in on the issue of the new immigration regulations pertaining to children but I can contain myself no longer.
Let me begin by recapping the intention behind the new regulations; to prevent child trafficking. Let me also – just for the sake of clarity – define what “child trafficking” is. Child trafficking is defined as: “the illegal movement of children, typically for the purposes of forced labour or sexual exploitation.”
Now it is important that we humanise this issue because the arguments against the new immigration regulations have been worryingly callous; “How many children are really trafficked into or out of South Africa each year?” “Most kids enter or exit illegally through our very porous borders as opposed to through legitimate channels where their travel documents will be checked.” I even heard one travel industry commentator quipping; “Is this not using a steam-roller to crack a nut?”
Researchers seem to agree that hundreds than in the thousands of children are trafficked into or out of South Africa each year. Now to put these meaningless numbers into a little context all I ask is that you close your eyes and imagine your son, daughter or grandchild – the one who is currently playing happily outside with her friends or watching some TV – imagine that child dirty and broken, parading the streets of a foreign country, turning tricks to fuel her insatiable drug habit and the bottomless pit of her “Daddy’s” lust for money. Would you not want to do everything in your power to prevent this from happening? Would you not stand in a queue at Home Affairs all day, every day for the rest of your life to ensure that that dreadful image never became a reality? Of course you would and stuff what anyone had to say about; “the negative impact on our tourism industry.” What callousness! Quite frankly if people are put off coming to our country because we love and care for our children then they should not be welcomed here in the first place.
And let’s be honest here, we are not asking for all that much. Here is an extract from the website www.sapeople.com: “All children under the age of 18 – both local and foreigners – are now required to travel with a valid passport and an unabridged (full) birth certificate stating both parents’ names. If the child is travelling alone or with only one parent, then the child must also carry an affidavit filled out by the missing parent/s.” This particular website then goes on to provide a Parental Consent Form that you can download and use.
So all that is needed apart from the normal passport is an unabridged birth certificate and – only if the child is travelling without both parents – an affidavit from the missing parent stating that the child has permission to travel. If you are travelling from outside South Africa all you require is an official document stating the name of both the child’s parents. According to the Board of Airline Representatives (BARSA) this will cost the tourism sector over R6.8bn in losses and could result in job cuts. It did not specify the timeframe for these massive losses or how the figure was calculated.
But even if these figures are valid which is highly questionable, should we be placing monetary values – however large – onto children lives? Essentially what we are indicating when we say that the travel industry will lose RXYZ billion is that children’s lives are not worth this amount. Again – close your eyes and imagine your child.
Now I know there is a bigger picture here regarding the impact on the economy and de facto on people’s lives as a result of travel industry related job losses etc. But in truth should we not be aiming to create jobs and boost tourism whilst doing everything in our power to prevent the incalculable losses associated with child trafficking? Should we not adopt a certain cosmetic brand’s strapline; “First Do No Harm” and ensure that our travel industry does not thrive at the expense of even one child?
To quote another well know brand’s strapline lets; “Just do it”. Let’s go to home affairs, stand in the queue, get the unabridged birth certificate, do an affidavit and stop bloody whining. If we imagine that our efforts are saving children’s lives rather than wasting our oh-so-precious time and money then we may even do it with a sense of pride that our country is doing all it can to safeguard our children.
This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.