By Anees Teladia
The issues of regulation, exorbitant prices and paid trips that don’t materialise are rife in the South African Hajj travel industry. Many prospective hujaaj struggle with the travel process and many hujaaj come back with complaints about their experiences. The recent escalation in the prices of Hajj packages for 2019 has underscored the need for more oversight of Hajj operators, amid claims that the spiritual service to hujaaj is being forsaken for profits. Activists fighting on behalf of hujaaj strongly believe there should be an independent inquiry into the Hajj travel industry.
In conversation with VOC, Hajji Suraya Azad Majiet shed light on some of the issues she faced.
“The pricing of the operators is not a true reflection of what they advertised because of airfares etc. that are not included.”
“Prices should be regulated,” said Majiet.
Addressing these – and similar – issues, Jakes Rawat of Hajj Watch commented that the Muslim community needs to pay more attention to how they conduct business and informed the community that they do have rights in this regard.
“We all do business and buy things, but for some reason our Muslim community doesn’t understand – whether its Hajj, Pick ‘n Pay or a lawyer, there is money to be paid. In exchange, you know what to expect and you get it. If it doesn’t come according to that, you have recourse.”
“No one is allowed to sell any product without a contract, i.e. whatever they’re selling needs to be itemized. That allows you to compare,” said Rawat.
Ikeraam Van Witt, a prospective hujaaj, spoke on issues he experienced and witnessed with travel operators.
“The operator took R100 000 from my mother and was found to be in Saudi Arabia the night before my mother was supposed leave on Hajj – so that year she couldn’t go,” said Van Witt.
Van Witt then added that as Muslims we tend to trust very easily, especially when we get referred to operators by family or friends, and that such trust may at times put us in unnecessary positions.
Community activist Moeshfieka Botha, offered some insight into why these problems persist.
“Many people are quick to complain about services they do or do not get, but ask them to lay a formal complaint and they draw back.”
“Every year a different issue arises within the Hajj industry,” continued Botha, emphasising that people need to make formal complaints and follow through.
Botha also mentioned, however, that the public perception is that SAHUC is not on their side and that accordingly there is a need for independence in regulating the industry.
“The same people who are supposed to be looking out for the what the operators are doing wrong, are also operators themselves.”
Rawat then continued the point of inadequate regulation.
“What we have now is a so-called regulator that has members of the travel fraternity serving on its board. Then you have the consumer.”
“What you should have, is people providing services to consumers, and consumers. Then in the middle, a referee who is nonpartisan and is able to decide ‘this is the way forward’,” said Rawat.
Ultimately, the conclusion reached in the discussion seems to indicate that there should be an independent inquiry into the Hajj industry and that regulation of the industry needs to be improved.
“The structure is stacked against the consumer…the consumers aren’t protected,” said Rawat. VOC