You need the patience of a Saint when visiting the Department of Home Affairs in Pretoria. Finding parking anywhere near their offices in the Sentrakor Building in Pretorius Street, is another frustrating story!
I recently needed to apply for an unabridged birth certificate at Home Affairs, as part of the process of obtaining a British passport. I gathered that I would be saving some time and effort by having the form (BI-154) all filled in before the time, but for a brief moment there I forgot that This Is Africa!
I don’t know what you call those characters who run up and down like madmen in Pretorius Street directing traffic in and out of parking bays. They’re definitely not traffic controllers, neither are they car guards. “Custodians of prohibited parking bays”, could maybe fit the description of their profession, because when they finally shout-wave-and-whistle you into an open spot on the side of the road, the spot is marked with a yellow line clearly indicating that it is illegal to stop there.
Anyways, let’s just skip all the hassles of traffic and parking problems, and how I was harassed by the African street paparazzies, whose numbers increasingly multiplied the closer one got to the entrance of Home Affairs. I was too grateful they were only armed with Kodak cameras, and not AK-47 rifles, or even worse -- vuvuzelas!
Once inside the building, it was relatively easy to find the counter (Counter No. 4) where the paper needed to be handed in. There were queues of black people everywhere, but I felt confident that I was standing in the right one, because the sign above the counter clearly read, “Application for Birth Certificates”.
About 30 minute later I finally reached the front counter, only to hear that I had to first pay the required fee of R70 at counter number 7. “But, but, …” --- “No buts Sir - pay at counter number 7 and come back here!”
The queue at counter 7 was so long, they actually had a row of chairs near the end of the line where people could rest. It took me about 40 minutes just to reach the row of chairs, and about another 30 minutes of waiting and hopping from one chair to the next as the spot on the front chair became vacant, every odd 5 minutes or so.
Armed with my receipt stapled to the application form, I then proceeded back to counter 4, where I stood in the queue for another 40 minutes. There were no chairs in that queue! By then I was so busy applying discipline to my thoughts by silently repeating, among other perilous thoughts, the phrase, “This Is Africa” – over and over, that the 40 minutes went by surprisingly quickly!
It was the same lady who served me the first time round. This is how the conversation went:
“Sir, someone in Cullinan has already applied for this certificate.”
“But that’s impossible. This is my first application of this sort in my entire life!”
“The certificate is waiting in Cullinan to be printed, - Sir. Here you will have to wait another 3 months!”
“But who applied on my behalf, -- in Cullinan of all places?”
“The system doesn’t say, -- Sir, but I suggest you collect the certificate in Cullinan, as it has been lying there since the year 2008!”
“But, why in heavens name couldn’t you have told me this before?”
I was greeted by this total baffled look on the woman’s face. You know that look when someone gawks at you as if YOU are the stupid idiot and not them?
The woman was less than 10 metres away from the till at counter number 7, but yet she adamantly refused to stand up and walk to the cashier to get my R70 refunded. I could not believe the woman’s cheek when she said, “it’s your money and it’s not MY JOB to get it back!”
I tried jumping the front queue at counter 7, waving my papers and explaining to people in the line that I had already waited in the queue and just needed a refund. I was greeted by a sea of black faces, all shaking their heads. Some pointed to the end of the line, which by then had more than doubled in length since my previous visit to that counter.
To end a long story, --- I decided to stand in the queue again and wait. At one stage I phoned my son in London from my mobile, just so that he could hear the ear-deafening racket going on in the place. (It’s always good to hear his laughter!)
I must have waited in that queue for more than an hour, only to hear that the cashier had run out of change. I waited and waited on the side of the counter, until I was finally handed a filthy fragmented piece of decomposed paper that resembled a R50 note. I did not bother asking or waiting for the outstanding R20.
I have not yet had the time to travel to Cullinan to collect the certificate, but I’m already dreading that day. I phoned the Cullinan office to confirm whether or not the certificate was indeed waiting for collection, but was greeted by someone speaking an African language I could not understand, and who in turn could not understand a word I was saying.
This article mentions that the District Representative in charge of the Cullinan Home Affairs office was arrested for corruption, fraud, -- and aiding and abetting illegal foreigners. That was in November 2001. I doubt very much that things have changed since then!
Dear readers, I cannot wait for the day my plane finally takes off, leaving this country and its lazy, inconsiderate, corrupt, and incompetent people, -- for good!
Illegal immigrants: is anyone counting?
What’s in a name?