Saturday, November 14, 2009

Appalling SA embassy services bedevil SA workers abroad

I'm about to make use of the services of the South African consulate in Canberra. I just hope my experience isn't the same as that endured by Rod MacKenzie.

By Rod MacKenzie (SA expat in China)

Here’s the scenario: you are working in Shanghai and your SA passport is about to expire in a few months. Good, responsible citizen that you are, and not wishing to have trouble with the Chinese authorities when renewing your work visa, you duly go to the SA consulate in Shanghai.


Bureaucratic procedures combined with the Chinese love for paperwork (remember they invented the fabric and love to swim in it, I assure you), the process takes several hours, and there is no one else there, that is to say, no queue. Ja well no fine, such is life. Your passport photos are inadequate for some reason so you go downstairs and across the road to get a fresh set. All your fingers, both palms and full handprints are inked and placed on an official document. The whole paperwork thing really takes a while but ja well no fine so gaan die lewe. You are a Sawth Effricen, so you are as stoic as a bulldog and you can take the punch/jy kan die punch vat. The Chinese official helping you is a nice bloke anyway so you chat about life in Shanghai.

You then pay and wait for the receipt. And wait and wait. Eventually you go back to the cashier window and ask how long is it gonna take to get a receipt. The chap that you rather liked looks at you blankly and says the SA consulate official who has the authority to stamp the receipt is away for a while. It is lunch time so you know exactly what meeting it is that all bureaucrats are extremely disciplined about, so … ja well no fine on that score but why couldn’t the Chinese gentleman at least tell you he had gone to that unbelievably important meeting? You do have other things to do, like go back to work before the boss gets the hell in.

After a brief discussion that turns into a heated debate the official you used to like gives you a receipt without that bliksem stamp but at least you have proof. He thanks you kindly for your understanding and co-operation and further promises to courier a stamped, signed, sealed, framed, kissed or whatever upgrade to your home, but that never arrives. Ja well no fine, all is bureaucratically normal, nothing specific to hak or complain about.

Three months pass and you send a polite email enquiring about your passport, including the three ID numbers you have (SA ID, passport ID — a little different, a caveat to readers — and sommer nog ’n eenetjie you didn’t know about above your passport mug-shot if you remember correctly its whereabouts).

You receive an email a few days later stating nothing has been received but the matter will be followed up, with another “thanking you kindly for your understanding”. Ja well no fine … Then you receive a frightening email a week or so later, bearing in mind you are a foreigner in this country and are required to be legally here. Here, ek se, is the unedited cut and paste except for the italics and the words “you wince”:

“Dear Mr. Mackenzie,

We are still following up with your application with head office these days, however, with no answer yet. According to the passport application registration online, there is no record of any of passport applications of August this year (yours inclusive). Therefore, we assume that they may have lost the whole batch! While awaiting the confirmation from head office, I think it would be more proactive if we courier another set of application to head office . So, we need your cooperation and understanding [you wince] to come to our office again for a new application form and a set of fingerprints along with two passport photos.

Sorry for the inconvenience incurred and looking forward to your kind attention to this matter.

Best Regards! …. ”

Now it’s no longer ja well no fine and so gaan die lewe.< You scratch your head, check your receipt (hell, pity the upgraded, kissed or whatever receipt never arrived) and see the date was 13th July. In quiet desperation you email the oke and say you did it in July, knowing it probably collected dust until the next diplomatic bag / mule with saddle bags / pigeon with collar / whatever, was sent off in August.

Next email:

“Our diplomatic bag goes to South Africa once a month, mostly around 8th of the month. If you applied after that date, application will have to go with the next bag. Thanks for your understanding and co-operation…”

Of course, you are now tired of being thanked for “your copulation co-operation and understanding” and things are no longer ja well no fine. How do you stay legally in the country when either the SA consulate or the relevant section in South Africa are just not doing their job and perhaps blameshifting?

The above was nearly my scenario. Fortunately, I live life on my Irish passport, a wonderful EU first world passport.

Ah, the first world. Let’s compare getting a new passport from the Irish Consulate. When I was living in Southampton, England, my Irish passport had expired and I was living on my SA passport, which I had used to get into the country. Ja well no fine I sent off the expired one with relevant documentation and the fee to the Irish Consulate in London. I got back my new passport about two weeks later. I need say no more.

But now what about all the South Africans in Shanghai and elsewhere in the world who do not have — I am embarrassed to say — what I call a “first world” passport? God help them. God help South Africa, every government department going through corruption and crises from Eskom to Telkom to the Post Office which stole my Christmas and New Year cards to my octogenarian mother last year.

I am not writing this merely as a complaint, but as a concerned citizen and an embarrassed South African.

10 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

I required an USA visa so had to go the the USA embassy in Melbourne. Well, I did my visa booking on-line and made an interview for 2 days later. They had a fantastic system of signing in, going through security and then going up to the embassy itself - the visa was issued and I received my passport back (via Austalia Post) within 24 hours of having the interview. What an eye opener of how these things work in a first world country. SA is unfortunately a third world hell-hole where things rarely work.

Islandshark said...

I know of somebody who had to replace their daughter's SA passport - he had to take his own SA passport as proof of identity at SA High Commission in London.

So they applied, were informed the passport arrived and he went to their offices to collect it. He handed over his passport, they handed him his daughter's new passport and before he could say anything, the munt behind the counter duly cut off the corners of his passport!

Needless to say he went ballistic as he had to travel to SA in three weeks - he threatened them with legal action as he had business to do and they actually got a new passport in this timeframe. His wife had to pick it up though, as he was banned from the premises for swearing at the "competent professional" munt.

Islandshark said...

We got British citizenship through indefinite leave to remain after I entered on highly skilled programme.

We filled in our passport applications, had them checked at local post office. Less than two weeks later we were informed by letter that we should phone for appointment to confirm identity (standard procedure for first-time applicants to combat identity theft). I phoned and said workdays are difficult and it had to be early morning or late afternoon - to my surprise they did interviews on Saturdays!

So we went the Saturday and the passports arrived through the mailbox the Thursday!

Anonymous said...

Took 9 months to get me a new passport. Here is the funny thing!

You passport application goes via mail and not the diplomatic bag. If you want it to get to SA you have to pay extra for the DHL charges. It only comes back with the diplomatic bag.

Anonymous said...

Later today when I get home I will give my EU passport a big kiss and have a glass of Shiraz to celebrate my good fortune .

SA Greek said...

There are some pretty rude people working at SA embassy in Athens Greece.I must say they drove me mad when i went to renew my passport and the most scary thing of all is that they try to convince you to give up your SA citizenship!!!!!I wonder if this is a standard policy.To try to reduce the number of white SA citizens by making them renounce their citizenship....

KB said...

My son was born in Indonesia on 28/09/2007 so I went to register his birth at the SA Embassy in Jakarta after completing all the local requirements. My son was 5 days old at the time. Having then submitted all the required documents incl sworn translations of all Indonesian documents the whole lot was completed and submitted within 10 days.

In the meantime my son was not able to apply for a SA Passport as to do that he needed a birth certificate. I fought, swore, threatened and even sent off emails to all the ministers office's involved (all ignored)as everyone was just passing the buck. After absolute pathetic service and on some occasions being avoided, I eventually gave up and made my son an Indonesian citizen and got him a Indonesian passport.

15/06/2009 is the date of issue on my sons SA birth certificate and we received it on the next mule train that brings the diplomatic bags.

21 MONTHS!!!!!

I'm too scared to apply for a Passport for him as I don't think my blood pressure can handle it. They say outright it will take at least 9 months to proses the passport.

Dachshund said...

I never gave up my EU passport in the first place, but beware dual citizenship. My husband has German as well as SA citizenship. No problems with renewing the German passport but he's having endless problems getting the SA passport renewed. The ANC does not want whites to have SA citizenship or voting rights.

KB said...

Update: I was in the SA Embassy in Jakarta again today and have another eventfull moment to share.
I applied for my eldest daughter's SA ID 13 Months ago through the embassy and when we enquired today we were told that it is still not done. There is no system of follow up or feedback and if you dont ask you hear nothing.

My son who now has his SA Birth Certificate after 21 Months (through the embassy) has to apply for a Visa to enter SA and has to travel to SA on his Indonesian passport because they will not issue him with a temporary passport (issued at the embassy within a few days)because he has not yet applied or been issued with a "real" SA passport??

The travel arrangements does not allow for a nine month wait to get his SA passport so R600 later I have had to apply for a Visa for my son (a SA Citizen) to enter SA.

Arno Muller said...

Useless embassy in London. I am waiting for my birth certificate for more than 6 months now. It was already send to London 2 months ago. The telnrs dont work, I have send 12 emails to complain and 4 letters. The more I complain the more they delay my application. The most senior person in poition also dont do anything at all.

I dont know where to go to to complain, all my complains make me suffer now???

I hate the system and all the lazy people who dont wana do their work.