From the news desk

First SA hujjaj to depart on Sunday

By Abubakr Abrahams

With the first group of South Africans set to embark on Haj 2017 this week, role-players in the haj sector are now tightening their logistical arrangements for the haj season. Some 2 million pilgrims from around the world will travel to the holy cities for the annual pilgrimage, which takes place over five days. This year, the hajj will commence on Wednesday 30th August and conclude on Monday 4th September.

Speaking to VOC, South African Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) president Shaheen Essop and South African Haj Travel Operators Association (Sathoa) secretary general Muhsin Sheikh expanded on the logistical processes and the main challenges ahead of the pilgrimage.  With the first group of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg hujjaj are expected to leave on Sunday, 23 July 2017. Essop said all plans are on track.

“We are busy with the issuing of the visas. There were some technical glitches affecting operators and we have escalated this to authorities in the Kingdom,” he said.

Essop explained that all quotas are filled for Hajj 2017. This year however, Sahuc experienced a dropout rate of between 55 to 60 percent.

“We must understand the economic situation which has significantly affected hujjaj. Unfortunately, haj operators and the public don’t play the game as deadlines were given for people to fullfill their obligations by the 1st Ramadan. This still gives us enough time to put out an additional list to find a replacement. When people cancel at the eleventh hour, [nine people cancelled this week] it means we have to phone almost 650 people to find a replacement. So these are the challenges we find. We are working towards finding a solution and we ask haj operators and those who have applied for accreditation to co-operate with us,” he said.

Essop assured that a (rica) sim card together with a brief of the locations of Sahuc’s clinics and offices in the Kingdom will be given to all hujjaj.

“Hujjaj will get a pre assigned Saudi telephone number so they can stay in contact with their families while on hajj,” he added.

Both Essop and Sheikh stressed on the need for hujjaj to co-operate with their respective agencies and operators to ensure that everything is up to date and that all required documentation is completed.
“Once the operator signs at the [The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] at the muassasah [haj institute], to activate the munnathim [haj system] status, they are liable for the total they have to pay. For example, if the operator has 100 hajis and at this stage he has cancelled two or three, the operator is liable for the 100 hajis he signed for,” Shaikh explained.

Commenting on concerns related to Haj 2018, Sheikh further noted that hujjaj must prepare before the month of Ramadan for the hajj season.

“Before the [the potential haji] clicks or before he chooses an operator, he must be sure 100 percent ready to go [and] financially secured,” added Shaikh.

Regarding complaints about pilgrims who are reportedly charged additional costs that are not stated on the initial quote by operators, Shaikh asserts that no such complaints were tabled by hujaaj with Sathoa.
“[However] we did receive some SMSes where people are going around to collect money for pilgrims who cannot afford to pay their packages at a later stage.”

Sahuc and Sathoa further reassured hujaj that all preparations for Hajj 2017 are in place and well equipped. VOC

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