How to survive Home Affairs #Find Rene
I arrived with a different attitude on this, my eighth turn to Home Affairs. I parked easily as it was still early, and armed with the Truth (coffee) joined a moving queue just after 8am so that by 2 minutes past, I was standing inside the building on the First Floor, Collections – a queue of only 5 people. Calm and content, sipping my coffee.
I had my journal, a copy of Joanne Hichens’ Sweet Paradise, David Nicholls, Us (which I am loving beyond most things I have ever read I think) and of course my receipts: the receipts evidencing that I had on 28th May applied for the obligatory unabridged birth certificate, the new requirements allowing minors to travel, which I was told would take 6 to 8 weeks. Today’s date: 1 December.
I had brought all the required documents, both parents IDs marriage certificates etc when I applied and now all I needed was the certificate, for which I had paid R75 times 3 children- my youngest had the computerized unabridged certificate already. The passports saga– for which I had frequented Home Affairs 5 times- was over. I was way way over the ordeal with Wynberg, Bellville and Somerset West. I had finally received all those in good time- despite some stressful and futile excursions after school hours and on Saturday mornings and finally driving out at 6am to Somerset West, taking all children out of a school on a Tuesday morning for 2 hours since there was simply no other way. But I was over this. SO over this.
I was even over the fact that that I had come to Barrack Street twice already to fetch my daughter’s Smartcard since the previous time I had come, their system went down-while I sat looking at the card on the officials desk after waiting in a queue for an hour but was not allowed to take because it had to be loaded on the system.
Now it was the birth certificates. I had received one of the three (only about one month ago) but two were still outstanding. One of these was particularly urgent though as my daughter is travelling as an unaccompanied minor on an exchange to Germany in a week’s time. Time was of the essence.
I got to the front of the queue and smiled and said ‘Good morning’. She yawned and looked at me indignantly and then tapped on the computer.
‘They’re not ready – go to that queue.’
I was still smiling. ‘ I know there’re not ready that’s why I’m back here because I was here 2 weeks ago and I explained that it was now urgent ( long story short blah blah) you took my details and cell and promised you would phone Pretoria and explain the urgency but I haven’t heard anything. That’s why I’m back now because I was told that you would then give me a letter.’
‘Go to that queue. The lady that does letters is only in at 9.am.’
I went to that queue and sipped my coffee. I sat down. ‘Be true to thy self’ read the tattoo on the forearm of the gay man next to me. He and his new spouse were waiting for a marriage certificate and we joked about perhaps him having to go back to Vegas.
I got to the front of the queue and explained again. She said – no smile yet – ‘Go to the supervisor’ in Room 38 – or whichever now I can’t remember.
I sat down and put the receipts in front of her and asked if she could please help me. She ignored me completely. She never looked up. She flipped through some documents and chatted to one or two people who wafted in and out but I didn’t understand what they were saying.
Eventually I asked if she was going to help and she said ‘ I’m trying to phone Pretoria, Mam’ but the phone just rang. I could hear it.
Then she didn’t notice me at all. I sat there for about 15 minutes and she flicked through her piles of documents and tapped on her computer.
I tried to empathize with her. ‘Gosh , they make it difficult for you, hey? You have lots of paper work to get through.’ She told me she was stressed and that her colleague had told her she wasn’t going to help her with all the 65 applications that she had to get done with and she had sleeping problems . The phone rang and I heard the conversation from the desperate woman on the other side. It sounded like a mess. The woman was trying to get a name change on her son’s (aged 15) birth certificate because he wanted his biological father’s surname and not that of his stepfather who was his mother’s second husband but now divorced and the mother was trying to explain that she had no clue about the whereabouts of the father and could have been dead or something …and ‘ come in and apply …and bring affidavits….and get a letter from the father….(but I think he’s dead, I don’t know where he is…) and yes Mam but bring a letter with R325 and then apply …..
Relief that I was married to the father of my four children.
But still nothing said about my certificates.
At 8 minutes to 9am a lady walked in and looked at me briefly and I said ‘are you the lady that types letters’ and she looked at me as if I was a dog poo and said something about 8 mins and marriage certificates looked at her purple nail polish, took her cell out her bag, put some gum into her mouth and walked out. I never saw her again.
‘Is she the woman?’ I asked the lady who was still partially ignoring me. ‘Yes but she cannot help you because you haven’t got your husband’s ID and marriage certificate….’
‘But I’ve shown you them before and paid and that’s why I’m here…with my receipt to claim my certificate …so surely I don’t’ need it again?’
‘Mam ‘ she said, finally, ‘ you must follow our rules and you don’t have your marriage certificate , she cannot help you’
All I needed was a letter. From them. From Home Affairs . How could this be happening? I applied in May. It was now December.
(It was about onus you see….the onus had shifted to Home Affairs to show why they hadn’t given me my certificate yet. I had already fulfilled my obligations. But no-one was listening. No-one wanted to help. No-one accepted responsibility)
I sat in silence and put my knuckles into my eye sockets for I don’t know how long.
Another lady walked in. ‘Is there another Manager somewhere?’ I asked desperately.
‘Mr Bongani. 3rd floor’
No smiles yet.
I passed a security guard who told me to sit and wait in the chair. Several people walked passed me, in and out of doors, carrying empty coffee cups, talking to each other. No-one greeted me. I was invisible. I said ‘hello’ every now and then.
I never saw Mr Bongani.
I started journaling but the words scrawled across the page so I opened Joanne’s book and read a quote by Dante Aligheri on her first page : ‘The path to paradise begins in hell ’.
And then Rene appeared.
She sat down next to me and smiled and said, ‘How can I help you?’
I had a lump in my throat. She heard my plea, took my documents and said ‘Wait here and I’ll sort it for you’.
She disappeared for about 20 minutes and came back with a letter.
I told her she was an angel and she said, ‘I’m just doing my job.’
I walked out with a man who told me he has been waiting 7 months for his two children’s passports. They are illegal immigrants without them. I told him about the book my husband was reading, Johnson’s new release ‘How long will SA Survive?’ and we walked away saying ‘Oh well…have a nice day’.
I turned the corner and found myself back at Truth (coffee).
And then later I downloaded my emails and there was one from Books Live.
And the introduction read:
And then it showed November top sellers, via Book FINDER, and these were:
|1. What If There Were No Whites in South Africa?||2. We Have Now Begun Our Descent||3. How Long Will South Africa Survive?||4. The Smell of Apples||5. Cosatu in Crisis|
And other than Mark Behr’s beautiful The Smell of Apples which was one I quoted in my list of inspirations in my book From Courtrooms to Cupcakes, and whose untimely death this week is sad, sad news, there weren’t any amongst these that I felt like I wanted to read today.
Can’t imagine why.