The heads of both the South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) and South African Travel Operators Association (Sathoa), have hailed the success of this year’s Hajj pilgrimage. The majority of the almost 2000 Hujjaj who undertook the journey have already returned home, with many praising the fluidity and ease with which operations were conducted in the Saudi Kingdom.
Haj 1435 saw the implementation of a new visa application system by the Saudi Haj Ministry. This resulted in a number of minor challenges on the local front, with Sahuc in particular experiencing issues with the issuance of visas. Despite the delay, Sahuc president, Shaheen Essop, said they had managed to resolve the issue without any major setbacks.
“Alhamdulillah we managed to overcome this, although with a little bit of difficulty initially. There was a little bit of tension flying, but with Allah’s Qudrat, we managed to get everybody away. This is with the exception of four Hujjaj, whose flights were booked after the closure of the airport in Jeddah,” he noted.
Despite the technical difficulties encountered, Essop said they would seek to appropriately address the problem ahead of next year’s pilgrimage.
This year’s haj also marks the end of a cycle for all haj operators accredited by Sahuc. In the coming year, the haj body will undertake a new applications process, in which haj operators will need to reapply for accreditation.
There was also a notable trend in haj operators being forced to merge, as a result of being unable to meet the required quota of 50 hujjaj per operator. Essop insisted this trend was not something new.
“This is where we have 31 or 32 haj operators accredited, and 15 or 16 of them only manage to make the numbers as a result of mergers, and getting together to make the minimum number of 50,” he said.
The quota issue also led to problems with the Boland Haj Jamaah, who were unable to honour their agreements with 25 pilgrims who had booked with them. The affected hujjaj were forced to seek out alternative arrangements as a result. Through the assistance of Sahuc and Sathoa, the group eventually departed for the Kingdom with the Booley’s Haj Jamaah. The Boland Jamaah was subsequently suspended by Sahuc, for breaching its code of conduct.
Essop also had special praise for the members of Sahuc’s haj mission, who had travelled to the kingdom to assist with seeing to the needs of the hujjaj. He said they had received numerous reports that Sahuc representatives had made themselves extremely visible throughout the journey.
“Our thanks and duas go out to everyone who was part of the mission, both medical and normal mission workers, who have sacrificed their time and families to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our South African hujjaj,” he said.
Having been in close contact with the various tour operators in the Kingdom, Sathoa chairperson, Sedick Steenkamp, criticised the new regulations within the Saudi Haj Ministry. He agreed with the sentiments of Essop, that the regulations and made the logistics of Hajj 1435 somewhat complex, but noted that all issues had been ironed out.
“We have been on top of it with Sahuc, so from that point of view we have been working hard at it. It is never easy, but Alhamdulillah we have been able to manage and all the arrangements in our view went quite fine,” he said.
From Sathoa’s side, he said they were yet to receive any major complaints from either the operators or pilgrims. This was despite chairing a meeting on Wednesday evening with operators, to discuss any such issues.
Ahead of next year’s Haj, Steenkamp warned that it was imperative that hujjaj made the bookings and decisions as early as possible, to avoid any incidents of late cancellations. For those who were intending to cancel, he stressed the importance of notifying the relevant authorities as early as possible.
“It does put everyone in a lot of problems if people hang on to their accreditation and then cancel at the last minute. It creates a problem in finding replacements,” he said.
For any haj related inquiries, you may contact Sahuc via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)