Dear Minister Gigaba
I am writing to you standing in a queue at the Department of Home Affairs office in Edenvale, Ekurhuleni. I arrived here at 07:00, an hour before the office actually opens.
Already there are more than 30 people in the queue. The first person in the line arrived at 06:00.
Most of us in this queue are attempting for the second or third time to just collect an identity document or a passport.
Two days earlier I had come before 09:00, only to find that there were already more than 100 people in the queue. I had to turn back because there is that all important matter called work.
Mind you, I had already taken a day off to apply for an ID. Four weeks earlier I had arrived at 09:00 and joined a snaking queue, standing in the sun for at least three hours before we made it into the building. Inside we had to wait some more.
But at that time I was just relieved that we made it inside before the cut-off time of 15:30. I was told that if you are not inside the office by then, you have to return the next day because they will not help you.
My mother, who lives in Polokwane, had the worst experience. She stood in the line for two days and on both days she was part of the scores of people who were turned back by the officials.
Then she was advised to rather be at the Home Affairs offices by 04:00 if she wanted to be guaranteed to be first in line. My mother is 64 years old. She indeed arrived at 04:00, in the dark, fearful. But she says 30 minutes later, more people started arriving.
On the day I applied for a new identity document there was a pensioner, nearing 70 years of age. She stood alongside me in the sun, worried about her diabetes; she hadn’t eaten.
Minister, it is physically exhausting, frustrating and just mind-numbing that the simple process of picking up an ID has to be this difficult. We are tax paying citizens and deserve better.
Unlike that front line official who was on Facebook and checking her messages while working, staff are friendly despite having to face irate members of the public.
Offices have an automated system that calls out your number so no one can cheat and skip the queue. First, it’s a number to go and pay, before you return to the steel chairs to wait to be called for your fingerprints to be taken.
But I cannot even begin to imagine the number of productive hours lost to our economy because people have to spend all day to apply, and at least four more hours to collect, crucial documents that are necessary for everything.
Edenvale is more than 20 km from my house, but I had heard horror stories about the Home Affairs office Randburg, which used to be my preferred choice.
A few years ago we all heaped praise on the department for removing corruption and streamlining the application process, making it possible for one to get a passport in just three days.
But I hear now you pay someone just to stand in the queue for you.
I hear the problem is not the system, but lack of personnel and computers to serve the sheer number of South Africans, many of them who have had their documents stolen because you do know we have a crime crisis in this country.
In the Edenvale office there were three sections for collections but only two people were working.
I counted 8 counters where they take your fingerprints but only 4 officials were working.
The other problem is that all offices don’t open on Saturdays anymore because the department would not pay the officials' overtime. I don’t know what happens to the millions of working class people who cannot take leave.
I know you have introduced banks to alleviate the crisis but too few banks offer this service. The online service is also not an option for the millions of people who do not have access to the internet or cannot afford the data cost.
So, instead of playing Candy Crush while on the job and holding press conferences to lie about the Guptas, (who I am certain didn’t endure this pain of standing in a queue for hours) can you please find solutions to this national nightmare?
- Mahlase is politics editor of News24.
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