The South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) says it cannot regulate the umrah industry, as local umrah operators are vetted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Sahuc president Shaheen Essop was responding to questions around why umrah operators are still able to operate, despite complaints against errant agents. Local pilgrims feel umrah agents are not being held accountable for bad service and reneging on contractual agreements. As the Ramadan umrah season approaches, community members have cited concern that potential hujjaj may fall victim to unregistered umrah operators.
Essop explained that through the protocol that is signed between Saudi Arabia and South Africa, Sahuc regulates the haj industry, while umrah regulations are conferred differently. South African agencies who wish to take pilgrims on umrah have to be in possession of an International Air Transport Association (IATA) licence and a memorandum of understanding with an international or Saudi agent, which is ratified by the Saudi ministry of haj.
In addition, agents are required to deposit 200 000 SAR with the Ministry of Hajj in Saudi, in order to be approved.
Once these criteria are met, the local authority is qualified as an umrah operator.
He said that there are currently nine umrah operators that are registered with the Ministry of Haj’s umrah division.
On complaints that pilgrims are forking out too much for Sahuc’s administration costs, Essop said that the R1 300 service fee enables the regulator to send the required team of mission workers and medical personal to accompany South African hujjaj.
“From the R1 300 we buy tickets, accommodation, and medical supplies [for the mission], which is all going to be of service to you on your arrival and during your stay in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he explained.
In terms of service cost, he said that the strength of the rand directly impacts Sahuc and the cost of sending the mission to the kingdom. In 2015, the service cost was R1 585 per person and this year costs will be in excess of R1 700.
“So Sahuc is still subsidising in terms of the service charge,” he asserted.
Despite haj drawing closer, Sahuc’s haj accreditation list, which was recently released, failed to attract the required notice of acceptance of applicants.
Many applicants did not submit a notice of acceptance, which resulted in a 42 per cent dropout. The organization subsequently released 818 new spaces.
With regards to the high dropout rate of awaiting pilgrims, Essop said that since economic conditions change, individuals who applied years ago may not be able to afford the costs associated with the trip this year.
He urged potential pilgrims to assess operators prior to applying and to check whether operators are IATA holders and registered with the Ministry of Haj.
Essop encouraged awaiting pilgrims who are experiencing problems or have queries to visit their office in Cape Town.
For more information, visit: https://www.sahuchajjregistry