There’s no queue jumping, like Atul

Tuesday morning. There’s a fragile mist hanging over the home affairs office in Umgeni Road. It’s not quite rain but it’s welcome. It was blazing hot on each of my five visits to the department’s main Durban office to try to renew my passport. At least today’s mind-numbing, potentially fruitless, daylong wait won’t take place in sauna conditions.

It’s just after 7am. The queue of “lucky” punters — those who were turned away the day before, or the day before that, and got given a priority ticket for today — is already coiled across the parking lot outside the entrance to the passport and identity document section.

The rest, who’ve ignored the “no queueing before 5.30am” signs and started gathering before 4am, line the walls of the home affairs complex all the way to the southern perimeter fence. The queue then curls back towards the entrance and around the cars crammed into the parking lot. There must be about 2 000 people here already. They let in 20 people at a time. Issue 300 tickets for the day.

Today I’m one of the lucky ones. Perhaps. Thus far, I haven’t been.

My passport has expired. Dumb move on my part.

My surname isn’t Gupta, so I have no choice but to brave the home affairs queue. I’ve tried the online portal. I’m not allowed to use it. I’m a voting, tax-paying South African citizen. I stopped using a British passport in 1994. I lived in Ireland for the first 10 years of my life. The other 42 I’ve lived here. I’m a bit of an either-or kind of a cat. It seemed hypocritical to keep a British passport in post-apartheid South Africa. I gave mine back, along with the citizenship. Signed up for a green one. You’re either with the republic or you aren’t. Because I wasn’t born here, I can’t apply online. Or at the bank.

Fair enough. The queue is for me. My previous experience, in 2005, wasn’t bad at all. About 30 minutes outside. About one hour inside, including the meet and greet, online capture, fingerprints, photo and payment. I got an SMS to collect in a month’s time before I left the building. Nothing wrong.

Back to 2018. On my first three attempts to get my passport, I didn’t even get within eyesight of the front door. I got there before 5am. Joined the 500 people ahead of me. Stuck around in the hope that I’d make the cut. Stood there swallowing my rage and impotence when the supervisor arrived at midday. Told us that there was no guarantee we would be seen that day. Rather go home. Come back another day. Sorry.

I made a good few calls to the office in between my third and fourth visit. The phone rang until Telkom cut the call every time. Eventually, I gave up.

This is madness. I can afford to come back day after day. I have a job and I live close to home affairs. What about the thousands who aren’t as privileged as me?

Day four was last Friday. I joined the queue at about 5am. Just before midday, the supervisor arrived to send us home. I lost my mind. Did what I’d been resisting doing for two weeks. Told her I was a journalist and wanted to see the cat in charge about the mayhem taking place on his watch. It was a cheap move but I was left with no choice.

Half an hour later, I was in the larney’s office. He wasn’t too impressed at first. Looked like he’d rather give me a beating that a hearing. But he heard me out. Told me that, because I was a journalist, he couldn’t talk to me. But as he could see that I was a citizen in distress, he would give me a ticket to come back at 7.30am on Monday along with the rest of Friday’s leftovers. I couldn’t have asked more from the man. Respect.

Monday morning I’m there at 7am. I’m about number 10 in the line ahead of the main queue. I’m stoked.

At about 8am, the supervisor comes. The system’s offline nationally. We’ll update you in an hour. At noon she comes back. The system is still offline. Come back tomorrow.

Tuesday it is. At 8am, the “lucky” queue starts to move. Slowly. We inch towards the door. I get inside at 9am. I get another ticket. I’m number 126. The hall’s half-full. There’s an orderly queue to get processed. Pictures of President Cyril Ramaphosa on the wall. None of Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba that I can see. Maybe they realise it’s only a matter of time till the Guptas’ last man standing takes a fall. Don’t want to waste state resources.

The “star of the month” picture frames on the wall are empty. The air conditioning is working but the room still stinks of desperation, sweat and Jeyes Fluid.

The security cat running the floor weeds out an arrogant undertaker and his wife and overfed kids. They’ve “organised” to get inside, cut the queue and are seated in the front row, grinningly fanning themselves with their paperwork. Our man sends them packing. Marches them to the exit. A cheer goes up from the rest of us. Mine is tinged with guilt.

By 11am, I’ve paid my R400. I get the confirmatory SMS by the time I hit the parking lot. I get moving. There’s work to do.

I get home and hit the TV remote to catch up on the news. Gigaba’s on TV. Hanging himself. Lying under oath. He’s busy explaining how the backdoor citizenship he organised his Sojidaddy is not really a citizenship. How he had nothing to do with trashing the rules for the Guptas. Lying. Again. And again. And again.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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