“We used to be called the Department of Horror Affairs,” said Mayihlome Tshwete, spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs.
Home Affairs is the only government department that deals with every single South African citizen – as well as millions of foreigners who enter and exit the country annually.
Not long ago it was common for members of the public to wait for months on end for identity documents, passports, birth certificates or other necessary papers that can be attained only through the department.
But as it works to move towards a paperless system, so its service is improving.
News24 has received countless e-mails from users detailing their, admittedly unexpected, positive experiences with Home Affairs.
Lorna-Ann, who didn’t give her last name, wrote: “I brought my quadriplegic son in to have his passport renewed. This is not an easy task. [East London] Home Affairs were absolutely wonderful even though the exercise took 10 times longer than it normally does.
“My highest praises to the two ladies that assisted me, what an enlightening experience.”
Tariq Ayoob in Johannesburg said he was dreading the day he would have to go to a branch in Alexandra to get his ID and passport.
“I got my new ID and passport within five days as I was travelling abroad and needed it urgently.
“The cost has been reduced as you no longer require photos to be taken. The system is procedural and functional.”
Aside from suggesting that staff at the Centurion branch could smile a bit more, Hendrik Baird said: “Service was quick and efficient.”
“People are getting better service,” Tshwete said. And the next few years within Home Affairs are set to be fairly exciting as the department has some big plans ahead, he said.
“We’re partnering with banks to alleviate pressure [on the department]. We have a good public-private partnership going.”
However, there are still some holes that need to be plugged.
Things to work on
Lorraine Goncalves told News24 that Home Affairs incorrectly lists her as still being married to her ex-husband. She has remarried and because she’s unable to get a passport with her updated status, she is unable to go on her honeymoon.
Meanwhile, a News24 user, “Willie” said his wife, a US citizen, and children have been waiting more than 18 months for their visas “and if they leave the country they will be banned for five years”.
“There is no way to get any information or feedback from Home Affairs,” he said.
Kgomotso, who did not give her surname, said in February she applied for unabridged birth certificates for her two sons. In June she returned to her local branch to get them and received a certificate for only one of her children.
She was told that the records for her older son were missing and she should reapply at the Alberton branch.
“I told them that I’ll be travelling in September and was assured that it won’t take long and the manager will send [an] e-mail for it to be processed quickly.
“Since then I’ve been calling weekly to the contact centre number that I was given by the Alberton office and every time I phone I get told that my query has been escalated…
“I am frustrated and devastated as we’ve planned to travel [in] September and now with this delay we don’t know what to expect.”
‘We’re getting there’
Last week a Pretoria transgender woman, Juanita van Zyl, told News24 she could not get a change of gender on her ID because staff at the Centurion branch incorrectly told her she needed a stamp of certification on her medical records, despite there being a letterhead with all the necessary information.
Van Zyl’s story had a happy ending, however, after Home Affairs employee Benjamin Khoza saw News24’s report and personally went to her office and helped her to submit the application.
Khoza confirmed that the letterhead was sufficient and the demands for a stamp were unnecessary.
In the department’s defence, Tshwete said, it had taken over an outdated system and “inherited a huge paper warehouse”.
“All the documents are in the warehouse. We’ve adopted an outdated system.
“We’re working on working through the warehouse. We’re getting there…” News24