Standing in a long, snail-paced queue outside a Department of Home Affairs building on a weekday morning is a common struggle in South Africa.
Reasons for these long wait times often include problems with the department’s systems or a lack of staff on duty.
While these certainly have an effect, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has shed light on how homeless South Africans are creating queues on purpose to capitalise on the impatience of legitimate visitors.
Speaking at a recent Parliamentary committee meeting, Motsoaledi said that while investigating long queue wait times as part of its “War on Queues” campaign, the department discovered an interesting practice which had resulted in the purposeful creation of long queues.
“Last year, we did an assessment and we went to various offices,” Motsoaledi said.
“One of the offices was in Pietermaritzburg, where the people who are homeless would wake up wherever they are within the city and go and queue in the line at Home Affairs in the morning.”
These people did not require the services of the Home Affairs office, but they queued at the building in the hope of selling their space in line to visitors who did not want to wait for extended periods of time.
“By the time you arrive, whether it is at 5:00 or 6:00, there are already 20 to 25 people in front of you. They are not there for the service, they are there to create queues and sell their space.”
He said that another issue is created when people arrive in a bakkie with chairs and place them outside the office, arguing that because they are not inside the office they are in the public space.
These people then sell their seats as places in the queue to visitors in a similar manner to the method described above.
These practices contribute to the creation of long queues at Home Affairs offices when there need not be any delays. They are especially effective during the first week or two of January, when many people are visiting Home Affairs to renew or process documents.
Home Affairs has been attempting to modernise its systems, and it has succeeded in certain initiatives, such as the Smart ID card project.
The department’s efforts have been hampered by the unreliable service delivery of the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), however.
Motsoaledi said that they were mandated to procure IT solutions through SITA, which resulted in an unreliable network and sporadic downtime, often leaving Home Affairs offices without the ability to process any queries.
He said that the department would continue to focus on its modernisation programme, including the development of e-gates and e-permit solutions.
Home Affairs’s partnership with banks for its Smart ID and passport issuance programme. has greatly improved customer experience, but its own systems – including its website – have repeatedly experienced outages and issues.