About twelve more local hujaaj are still waiting for their haj visas from the Saudi Haj Ministry. Just over twenty local hujaaj have already been affected by a glitch in the new integrated system software with local operators that resulted in some South African passports being unreadable. However, Sedick Steenkamp from the South African Travel and Hajj Operators Association (Sathoa) still believes the new system is a step into the future for the administration processes involved in haj. Steenkamp told VOC News that the problem stemmed from a failure to understand how the system works.
“A lot of the issues boils down to training issues where people don’t understand the electronic application. Now it is taking a bit of time to service the system. At least all parties are working on resolving the issues at this point,” Steenkamp explained.
No local hujaaj have been denied a visa, only delays have been expected at this point, says Steenkamp. Fortunately, most of the affected hujaaj have already departed on their spiritual journey while the next group, expected to leave in the coming weeks are still waiting for a resolution in anticipation.
The problem is not an isolated one. There have been separate cases from different haj operators in Cape Town.
Steenkamp said that now, service is being done on the system which could take up time. The next group of affected hujaaj are expecting to depart at the end of the month.
“We are in constant contact with the Hajj Ministry. Within the system there is a built in mechanism that is used for complaints. Normally, they come back to us within twenty-four hours. There is very little we, this side, can do about the matter. We are waiting on the Ministry to respond,” Steenkamp added.
With any new system, Steenkamp says glitches are to be expected. However, Steenkamp has reassured the public of the efficiency and need within the hajj industry for such a system.
“We are far away from what we did in the past by working manually. This gives the Ministry real time access to information. As we enter the information into the system, they can immediately see who are the people coming, where they will be staying and all their details. This then makes it easier for us here in South Africa. Once you are activated, everything goes online so no matter where you are in the Saudi Kingdom, details about your movements are online for the relevant people to see. It is therefore important for us to update data. This whole concept is a far more efficient way of controlling the movement of the hajis,” Steenkamp continued.
Hujaaj are requested to plan earlier in advance and not come forward at the eleventh hour to either change information to cancel.
“These are all the things we are learning to better plan for haj next year…to understand how we can operate in synergy with the global haj system. We need to change our local system this side to create a smoother flow next year.” VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)