There could well be a resolution in the delay of 12 outstanding hajj visas by the end of Friday, with operators working tirelessly to ensure hujaaj depart for the Saudi Kingdom as scheduled. A technical glitch in the integrated filing system between local operators and the Saudi Ministry of Hajj has left pilgrims anxiously awaiting news on whether they will receive their visas in time to make the holy journey. Of the 2000 quota of South African pilgrims, 1986 have had their visas issued to them. Two remain in the works, while the remaining 12 were affected by issues on their respective passports.
“Inshallah we hope to resolve those outstanding 12 visas by today,” confirmed Sedick Steenkamp, president of the South African Travel Operators Association (Sathoa).
Most of the 12 in question are only scheduled to depart from next week onwards.
Sathoa has also been beset by complaints from both hujaaj and members of the ulema over the inconvenient timing of flights out of Cape Town, with some forced to depart as early as 5am in the morning. While conceding that this was placing a strain on both parties, Steenkamp stressed that the early morning flights were very much influenced by the timing of later flights from Johannesburg to the Kingdom.
“I have seen the letter (of complaint) and I’ve tried to explain to our ulema and hujaaj that there are various conditions to issuing certain tickets that have certain rules and regulations,” he said.
While some have suggested breaking up journeys in order to avoid this issue, he warned that this would prove taxing on the finances of hujaaj, with extra costs likely to be ‘astronomical’.
“Many of our hujaaj are cash-strapped at the moment. With the rand and dollar exchange going as it is at the moment we are trying to save where we can. So where we have hujaaj that leave Johannesburg at 12:45pm in the afternoon, we are going to have to fly people out at 6am in the morning,” he stressed.
He added that where possible, operators would do their best to ensure hujaaj were not forced to leave depart during the early hours of the morning.
Haj is expected to fall between the 20th and 25th September. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)