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Sathoa advises pilgrims ahead of Hajj

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It is imperative prospective hujjaj clarify the terms of their package prior to signing any agreements with hajj operators, according to the South African Hajj Operators Association (Sathoa). The advice comes with little under a month before Muslims the world over descended upon the holy cities of Makkah and Madina for the annual hajj pilgrimage.

And while most local pilgrims would have already completed the contracting phase of the process, Sathoa chairperson, Sedick Steenkamp sought to advise both current and future hujjaj on the necessities of the spiritual journey as far as interactions with operators are concerned. Amongst the most crucial pieces of advice; ensuring no misunderstandings between respective parties on what their contract entailed, when departure and return dates were set for, and what form of accommodation was arranged and agreed upon. This was to ensure a seamless and worriless journey for pilgrims once in the Saudi Kingdom.

One of the more pressing concerns raised amongst pilgrims has been on the quality of service offered by operators. But Steenkamp said all operators were bound by a strict code of conduct aimed at ensuring they delivered honest and top quality service to hujaaj. For those unsatisfied with the level of service they were getting from any Sathoa member, he urged them to approach the association with their complaints.

“I can vouch for our members, and can say that they try and assist hujjaj as far as possible,” he assured.

As per the regulations imposed by the South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc), as well as authorities in the Kingdom, all local operators are required to be registered either with Sathoa or the SA Muslim Travellers Association (Samta). Furthermore, all operators need receive accreditation from Sahuc before they can start conducting business.

“I appeal to people to make all of these enquiries before they deal with anybody that purports to be a haj operator,” he warned.

For first time hujjaj the journey is likely to be an extremely overwhelming experience, especially to those making their maiden voyage outside the country. Steenkamp said all of the nine Sathoa members operating this year would be making provisions to assist pilgrims throughout their time in the holy cities, from the first point of arrival until their departure. However due to regulations imposed by authorities in the Kingdom, these operations would be understandably limited.

“We are restricted in the amount of workers we can take to the Kingdom with the quota involved, so for every 50 Hujaaj we can unfortunately get only one worker to assist. That is a bit of challenge, but we are all in the same boat,” he noted.

He also addressed queries as to whether those with family’s members in Makkah were able to reside with them as opposed to staying in Azizia, highlighting that there was a strict process of contracting with the Muasasah that limited where pilgrims were allowed to stay. This was aimed at ensuring hujjaj at all times remained as part of the group they were contracted to.

“Our hujjaj are not allowed to stay at any other hotel but that which we are contracted for, and which has a Hajj license. In terms of Hajj they are not allowed to do that,” he advised.

With the SA rand in decline and standing at around R3.50 to the riyal, Steenkamp advised those undertaking the journey to take along some non-perishable foods to cut down on costs. He stressed that food in the Kingdom would be expensive to local pockets, and proper budgeting was needed to ensure pilgrims returned home with their finances still intact. VOC

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