Bruce Whitfield: Home Affairs is where hope goes to die

Business Insider SA

There can be few things more soul-destroying than dealing with bureaucracy.

Applying for a passport through the traditional channel of the Home Affairs queue is sufficient to drive even the most optimistic South African to drink.

(I know you can do it through some bank branches in Johannesburg, so call me an idiot for being a traditionalist, wanting to see public services at work.)

We applied for my five-year-olds’ new Passport in January.

It was ready and delivered to my local Home Affairs within the week.

Incredible. Truly, a remarkable turnaround time - most impressive.

It wasn’t until today, however, that I had managed to block off a big enough chunk of time in my diary to queue to pick it up.

How people with regular jobs and clock-watching bosses ever get any official documentation done, is beyond me.

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Applying for a child’s passport is challenging. Both parents and the child must be present. So it’s best done in school holidays when the queues are at their longest. To ensure you get through the queue in a single workday, my local office requires you to be in the line early.

So, early one January morning, I joined the queue at about 5 am.

I was somewhere around 40th in the queue. Number 1 had been there since about 02:30.

The doors opened.

All was going according to plan.

I messaged my family who joined me as the first queue began to move.

There was a document check. Then a payment. Then a line for photographs. All done by about 10:00.

There was hope!

Then the wait began. At about 12:55, our number was finally called.

A few stamps and staples later, followed by a quick glance at our documents, cross-referenced with junior's unabridged birth certificate and we were done and back on the street a few minutes after 13:00.

Each step in the process was quick and efficient.

Combined, they dragged out for eight hours - the length of an average work-day.

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There was no revolt in the queue. There was no fury. No sense that with a better structure, a more efficient process could be instituted.

Just a tired resignation.

The staff were lovely. Charming. And efficient.

“We are slaves to the system,” one of them said.

“Can’t you make ‘the system’ work better?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders forlornly.

Eeyore, of Winnie-the-Pooh fame has a more optimistic worldview.

Forget trying to pick up your documents on a Saturday. As a working South African, you are required at your employer's expense to take a number and join a queue.

Pickups should be quick.

My phone battery is lower than my remaining data balance as I wait for my number to be called.

“Come-on 423!”

I am willing my number to be called as the clock ticks on.

My number is closer to be called by the minute.

But my boss is wondering where I am.

If I have to leave now, I have to do this all again on Monday.

“Oh hell! Did I bring my ID?”

Home Affairs is where hope goes to die.

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