In a surprise turn of events, the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree on Monday, stating that South Africa will be issued with 1000 additional visas for this year’s hajj season. However, the South African Haj and Umrah Council (SAHUC) on Tuesday morning made a decision to decline the visas, given the short notice for South African hujjaaj.
SAHUC president Moulana Muhammad Vaid confirmed that the regulator had to decline the offer given the time constraints.
“We have received communication late [Monday] afternoon with regards to an additional 1000 visas and that is correct that SAHUC has opted to decline those visas.”
In explaining its decision, Vaid said the last flight for Saudi Arabia departs South Africa on Wednesday 15th August at 11am. There are numerous processes to follow prior to the 4th of Dhul Hijja and it would not have been possible for these to be completed. This would have left prospective hujjaj with little to no time to adequately prepare.
Vaid said travel operators would have needed to sign contracts with the respective hujjaj and upload this into the E-Hajj system prior to the passport submission to obtain a hajj visa. Furthermore, it would have been difficult to obtain accommodation and flights for pilgrims within a short period of time, at a reasonable cost.
With South Africa’s official quota standing at 2500 and an additional 1000 added some months ago, Vaid said South Africa’s quota for next year is still unclear.
“At this stage, it is still too early to speculate; it will only be known to us when we go to the next hajj protocol 1440 and indulge into the negotiations with the authorities.
“Yes, we are hopeful that they should carry over this additional 1000 to our quota and this will obviously ease the backlog of first time applications,” he stated.
Asked why the Ministry of Hajj in Saudi Arabia gave South Africa the extra 1000, Vaid said that there is no indication as to the reasons for the decision and why it was made at this crucial time in the days of Hajj.
“Even though it is a royal decree, the difficulties that we sit with and the complexities at this very stage is a reality. Given those circumstances, we need to consider declining this offer,” he added.
Given complaints amongst South Africans of people that have reportedly been accepted to go on hajj despite having recently made the pilgrimage, Vaid affirmed that SAHUC has processes in place that are used to verify whether or not prospective hujjaaj has performed hajj in recent years.
He urged prospective hujjaaj to fill in the hajj accreditation application with good conscience.