Dear Mr President,
I listened attentively as you spoke this week about your bold plans for attracting investment into our economy. I could hear the excitement in your voice. And yes, I am hopeful that the world will see South Africa for the enormous economic potential it has, especially at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London currently.
But, I have to admit, Mr President, this investment means very little to millions of our citizens who endure the painful process of visiting home affairs offices throughout the country. I was one of them. My second visit this year. And I have been putting it off for months. You see, I am an eternal optimist and I somehow thought maybe there would be a quick turnaround. I know 60 days is a short time in Presidency but I would like to think that this is a priority for you. Minister Gigaba said he would be applying his mind to see how best queues can be shortened and service improved at home affairs. I really hope you can apply some pressure so that this is achieved.
Because, I know there are many who are preparing to sleep for a few hours tonight and then ready themselves to be first in the queue at a home affairs office. I am not exaggerating Mr President. That is in fact what we have to do to ensure that we are served by the officials whom you pay. Grandmothers and grandfathers – in wheelchairs and with walking sticks, adults who have taken the day off from work and children who should be at school… you will find then all in queues at any given home affairs office. Arguably, KwaZulu-Natal is in a tough spot. Unlike other cities, here, banks do not issue smart card IDs or passports. Alas! We feel neglected. Talk of a nationwide rollout by the end of March has not materialised.
Mr President, you spoke about “brakes” in our economy. With all due respect, I have never seen the brakes come on and off as slowly as they do at home affairs. Initially, we were told the photobooth was offline and without that no IDs or passports could be processed. And so we waited. In retrospect, it may have been a strategy to get us to go home. The lady in front of me asked if we could at least be allowed in and be seated as there were empty seats and we had now been standing for hours. To this, the security guards exchanged glares and comments. In fact, the guards act as gatekeepers to some and allow others to simply walk in. It’s selective access control. When we were eventually allowed in, the system went on and off no less than four times. Inside, there are more staff than there are visible counters and computers. And there are more background conversations than helping those in front.
There’s a long list of things I can complain about but I’m going to stop here. My aim is to offer some solutions Mr President that will make this process easier for our people.
You must as a matter of urgency, employ at least one technician at every home affairs office. It is within the expertise of technically trained people to deal with offline and online issues. You cannot have five staff members crowding at one computer and trying to figure out what is at fault. That is what I witnessed.
Queues need to be streamlined and better controlled by personnel. There can be no gaps or favours for friends. I was number 25 in the queue. Someone who was number 98 was placed in front of me because the security guard tried to make up some excuse to help her out. This was a slap in my face.
Saturdays. The reality of life in South Africa is that Saturday has become part of the working week for many. Why should home affairs be any different? Rotate your staff so overtime does not become a major issue for you. But please Mr President, pay us back for being law-abiding, tax-paying citizens by opening your doors to us on Saturdays. It is how you can remove the “brakes” in the economy that you spoke off. People will no longer have to miss days at work to visit home affairs if they can do so on Saturdays.
Batho Pele. It should be the hallmark of every government department but it falls terribly short at home affairs. Staff can benefit from some refresher training on how to deal with people. A smile instead of a sneer does help. It would help to show that those who are hired by government do care about people. If not, they should be fired. It’s as simple as that. Working for government comes with a certain status, but the responsibility to the public must supersede everything else.
Mr President, with these tools at your disposal, I sincerely hope you can oil the machinery at home affairs and kick start the engine. We cannot afford to have the brakes jammed here.
Dear Mr President,