/ 20 April 2018

SA passport, British visa application

Zukiswa Wanner writes about her lengthly process to visit a non-African country
Zukiswa Wanner writes about her lengthly process to visit a non-African country

There was the case of my passport.

As I would be on the road, it was important that I applied for most of the visas I would require in advance. Having already attained the Danish one, I had submitted the application for the British visa on June 23.

On submission of the application, I had gone through the previous spiel of “It will take 15 working days but if you want us to speed things up, you can pay an extra …”

The fee to speed up things, at 75% of the visa fee, was all a money-making hoax by the British, I decided.

On previous occasions, I had applied for the British visa from Kenya, despite the visa now being processed in Pretoria. I knew it would take a week at most before I got some sort of response one way or the other. And with an electronic monitoring system, I was convinced that, soon after submission, the decision would come back pretty early and, thereafter, all would be well and we could get on the road.

Turns out, eh, what I thought I knew, I did not know.

With no notification of return of passport by June 30, I cancelled a reading I had planned to do in Dar es Salaam. These were plans, I must mention, that had been confirmed two months in advance.

All three of us quickly remapped our trip. We would start in Arusha, sleep over, and then onward to Mbeya and into Zambia where I had another planned reading. We would then travel back to Malawi and I would do another reading. From Malawi, we would experience the longer trip through Zambia again then end in Zimbabwe before more resting and birthday partying.

This back and forth through Zambia was not ideal. Ideally, it would have been better if the second time around we could go through Mozambique and then to Zimbabwe. But at that time, diplomatic relations did not permit the non-SADC passport holder among us to travel without a visa applied for weeks in advance. Ideal or not, we would have to go through Zambia twice. Little did I know that these plans would change — twice.

Ten days past our initial planned date of departure, I still did not have my passport. By the evening of July 11, with all three of us suffering a serious case of wanderlust, and the guys trying to make me feel better for not having my passport back with their “It’s not your fault baby/mama,” I was gatvol.

I was also wondering whether the British government had finally decided that the processing fee would be their new way of sorting out the financial tumble of a post-Brexit pound. And my refusal to pay the price for speeding up the process meant that I would suffer the consequences. My writer’s imagination was working overtime.

For the first time in my life, I responded to the survey sent by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office after the visa application.

I have in the past not answered it because, frankly, after three hours of being online trying to answer questions about the dates of arrival and departure and whether I’d been to the United Kingdom in the past 10 years, I never reckoned it was worth my time. But now, unable to travel, I had nothing but time and I wanted to give them a piece of my mind.

Most of the questions, sadly, related to the visa application centre and not to the process of applying for a UK visa.

Since the service of the centre was admirable, I had nothing but good things to say about it.

But I vented in the final section, where I was given a thousand characters to mention “any other business”. For any bureaucratic government, however great it believes itself to be, to spend three weeks with my passport when I only intended to be in their country for four days at the invitation of one of their own artistic organisations was ridiculous.

Even more ridiculous was that citizens of the same country were not subjected to the same rigorous process as I had gone through, despite proof that some of them had committed various crimes, ranging from paedophilia to murder in many English-speaking countries.

The British were giving me a taste of what Tchassa and many other Africans get when they apply to visit my country. And it was not pleasant.

Also, I do not believe that I should have to deal with a lengthier process to visit a non-African country, when I do not nearly care as much to be there as I do to be in African countries.

I decided that I would ask for my passport back, both online and at the application centre. I checked again to see how far the processing was when I woke up, and on July 12, the status of my visa application was still the same as on June 24. I went online and requested the withdrawal of my passport, with all the diplomacy I could muster but also wanting to highlight my anger.

This is what I wrote: “Please urgently return my passport as it seems to be taking an incredibly long time to process. I made an application last year which took all of eight working days before I got my passport back. I am now astonished that it has been three weeks since I submitted my passport. Every time I check online since July 1 on status of the application, it seems stuck on exactly the same place. I shall try applying again when your country is more welcoming towards visitors from my part of the world. Thank you.”

I hit the submit button. Later that morning, I went to the application centre to withdraw my application in writing, in case the online space was not monitored frequently. As I was withdrawing, I asked how long it would take. “You will have it back on Thursday,” they said.

I was not allowing the British bureaucrats to keep my passport any longer than they should.

“I need my passport back tomorrow,” I said. “Please make sure it comes back tomorrow.”

The poor guy behind the glass must have realised he was dealing with a difficult client. He informed me that he would ask his boss to scan my request while I waited so that it would come in via courier the next day. I waited. Five minutes later he returned. “It will be back tomorrow.”

I was not taking any chances.

“What time?”

“Two o’clock,” he answered.

“Good. I will be here by three.”

That evening, I received an email. A decision had been made on my visa and I could not email back as nobody knew what the decision was. I laughed in consternation.