I have had so many questions about getting a passport lately… that I thought I would write a blog post about my experience with Home Affairs. As most of you know I am going to be traveling in a couple of weeks and I am going to need a new passport. In fact our whole family needs to renew their passports, but one small step at a time. In order to renew your passport you will need an i.d. book (identity book)… and if an “overly helpful” child perhaps put your i.d. book through the wash… then that is where you have to begin. You have to get an id book before you begin the passport journey.
Se7en Steps to Getting a Passport Renewed
- Get yourself a valid I.D. Book: This will involve a trip to a local Home Affairs office, once to apply and the second time to collect. A couple of months back I achieved this.
- For a Passport You Will Need: Just two things: Your ID Book and R400.00 cash. They only work with cash, and you have to have the right amount. You do not need photographs – they will take them there. And in the past you had to have a black pen with you… those days are over and everything is done electronically. For your mental health you might need a book to read and I noticed quite a few folk bought folding chairs along.
- Pick Your Office Carefully: The staff were extremely helpful and friendly at both offices I went to last week. They both had security officials, who did a whole lot more than security… they streamline the crowds into the right channels – those collecting vs. those applying. And they were very good at getting mom’s with new babies and the obviously elderly and disabled to the front of the queue. Unfortunately at the Wynberg Office they were not so good at stopping folk getting to the front desks and asking questions… which means that by the time you got to an actual desk, with a person behind it and it is you turn… four or five other folk will be standing at the desk and asking questions like “Am I in the Right Queue?” “Can you quickly get me my ID book, I have been waiting for hours.” Those folk jumping the queue make it impossible for the person at their desk to get the job done, just saying.
- You Need A Very Early Start: Each office can only process 200 passports a day. Last week I got to the Wynberg Office and stood in a queue for an hour and a half only to discover that I was 201 for the day and so it was all for nothing. the next day I was better prepared and tried the office in the city… I arrived at the office at 7:00 in the morning and the queue was down the block and later in the day, when I eventually got my “number allocation” I was 165 in the queue… Basically getting their after opening time is too late you will never be one of the “200 for the day.” That being said… they are not doing anything magical here and if you were at a retail store and they only processed 200 transactions a day they would quickly be out of business. It took from 7:00 am to 7:45… to be put into a queue and from 7:45 to 8:49 to get into the building.
- You Will Have To Queue and Queue: At 7:45 the security staff started to stream the queue into those folk collecting and those folk applying for documents, At 8:00 am they started to let folk into the building and I finally made it into the building at 8:49 a.m. I was optimistic, that “once in” the process would run smoothly. Once inside we were taken to the first floor and given a slip of paper telling us all to go to counter 23, on the ground floor. Counter 23 is the one and only cashier… which means that all the streaming into different queues outside is pointless… because almost everyone is there to pay for something and so has to pass by counter 23. Counter 23 may be the beginning and the end of all hope in making progress. because, even though you can only use cash and even though you have to have the correct money to pay… it takes at least four minutes to process each transaction. Do the math – four minutes per person means fifteen people an hour. So at counter 23… it takes four minutes to check that you have a slip of paper saying counter 23 on it, and take your cash and give you a receipt and that very precious number – saying where you are in the passport queue. At this stage I discovered that I was #165… and I was indeed relieved that my early start had paid off. Spent from 9:05 to 10:05 waiting at counter 23.
- The Photograph: The next step in the process is to get your photograph taken, but first you have to go through the front desk to check that you have a receipt from counter 23. Then you sit randomly in a corner of the ground floor and numbers are screamed across the floor… eventually you hear your number and head for the kiosk, where it takes literally 15 seconds to have your photo taken. It took from 10:05 to 10:45 in the queue waiting for the almost instantaneous photograph.
- Nearly Done: From there you are sent to the first floor… where you stand and wait again… this time your number will eventually appear on a screen and a mechanical voice will call your number to one of many counters. A friendly staff member will greet you and if the photograph on the screen does not match your details then it is time to say so. You will take a moment to give then your finger prints and another moment to verify your personal details… that they actually have – because remember you have an i.d. book already. Waited for a counter from 10:45 to 11:37.
- The SMS: As you leave the building… I dare not mention that someone had thrown up all over the stairwell at this stage… but aside from that… As I was leaving the building… a cheery little sms arrived to say thank you so much for applying for a passport. Out the door, with receipt in hand and sms beeping at 12:03.
And the se7en + 1th Step…
The process is long and arduous, folk in the queue develop a sense of camaraderie and the staff were at all times exceptionally helpful and they were getting on with the job at hand. But for all the friendliness the waiting in queues is simply unprecedented. There has to be a better way – all that needs to be done is pay a specific amount of money, have your photo taken, your fingerprints done and show your id document. Basically four things. If you had to do four things in a queue at your local supermarket – you would need to empty your shopping cart, pass the items through the scanner, pay for the items and then pack the goods into bags. Shopping is a four step process too and I have never met a store that could only process 200 transactions a day… not to mention a store that takes a couple of hours to process your transaction.
I have to say that just leaves me to receive another sms in a couple of weeks… and I will return at the crack of dawn and stand queue after queue to collect the priceless passport. And no I am not about to repeat the process eight more times to renew the passports of my children… I simply don’t think I can endure it.