About 800 prospective pilgrims gathered at the Athlone Civic Centre on Saturday morning for the South African Haj and Umrah Council’s (Sahuc) annual road show, eager for better insight into the logistics and processes involved in the annual haj journey. In a programme that spanned several hours from 9am onwards, a host of speakers addressed an attentive crowd on issues ranging from registration and accreditation processes, logistics around contracting with tour operators, and advice for potential first time travellers to the Saudi Kingdom.
Amongst those to take the stage was the president of the South African Travelers and Haj Operators Association (Sathoa), Sedick Steenkamp, who took audience members through a process of the role of the operator, and how best Hujaaj should interact with them. During his address, he urged people to act upon accreditation early, which would be of benefit to both the operator and pilgrim. He also alluded to a potential increase in the price of Hajj packages, due to a decline in the rand exchange rate.
Sahuc’s medical team was also on hand to provide prospective Hujaaj with advice on how best to prepare for what is likely to be a rigorous journey for most.
Speaking to VOC News after the event, Sahuc president Shaheen Essop said the high level of attendance showed tremendous interest on the part of community members.
“The sense that I got is that people are relatively satisfied with the processes, and the improvements that have been made over the years so far as Hajj management is concerned in South Africa,” he stated.
The morning’s programme included a question and answer session designated for those in attendance to raise questions on various issues pertaining to the Hajj processes, both pre-departure and whilst in the Kingdom. Amongst the issues raised were those related to current state of the Hajj accreditation process, and the queuing thereof.
“There was a recommendation given that we should put a numbering system in place for our queues, so that people can actually see more or less where they fit into that. Inshallah we will be doing that going forward,” he noted.
A notable difference in this year’s event was the inability of operators to display tour packages; this a result of a delay caused by a shakeup with the ‘muasasa’ in Saudi Arabia. But whilst there was a large sense of disappointment in this regard, most attendees were in acceptance that this was something out of the control of operators, or Sahuc for that matter.
Many of the audience members were eager to voice their opinion on the day’s events, although without their names being divulged. One such anonymous individual called for patience on the part of prospective hujaaj, adding that there was no need for complaints when “the journey of Hajj is a journey of Allah”.
Another attendee going under the name Bibi, said that as a potential first time Hujaaj, the information gathered would be of particular use to her. However, there were some concerns on her part.
“If they can release the accreditation much earlier in January or February, people can then prepare themselves before the time. Sometimes there are people who are working who need to make provisions for leave and so forth,” she explained.
And on the part of the operators, Miraaj Jacobs of Travel Unlimited hailed the ‘exorbitant’ amount of people that came out to the event, suggesting it may have been in the region of 800. With the delay in the release of packages, he said they were limited to simply engaging with people, and introducing them to the company.
“But I think that, what is more important is they should actually accredit the hujjaj first before they do this road show. Otherwise it is senseless for me,” he said.
He added that many of the pilgrims would not have gotten the satisfaction they craved, of wanting to know how much they would likely have to fork out should they receive accreditation. Speaking to some of the other operators, many were under the belief that with Sahuc anticipating an April 1st start to the accreditations, the final pricing for packages would likely be revealed well before then. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)