It was near chaos on Friday outside the Home Affairs offices in Umgeni Rd, Durban, after computer systems went offline nationally, with only some intermittent access. Officials made the queuing public wait outside only taking in a few people at a time, initially without any explanation.

The long and winding queue outside the Umgeni Home Affairs offices last Friday

The queue extended to almost completely around the building. People waiting in line became irate as they were waiting for a long time. Children and the elderly were forced to endure the wait with a lack of amenities and a filthy unusable toilet. By then security guards were seen allowing people from the back of the queue to come to the front causing those in the front to protest.

According to an eyewitness, the situation became volatile after arguments broke out with security guards who manhandled at least one woman who questioned why people from behind the queue were allowed to come to the front. Security guards were also seen readying their batons in confrontation as tempers flared. One of the men in the queue, who was there with his family, tried to intervene by engaging with the guards whose attitude he claimed was belittling, uncooperative, condescending and almost racist.

“My wife intervened and insisted that the people first in line be allowed entry to which the security guard then assaulted her by pushing her and threatening to physically remove her if she did not go back in the queue. I called for the supervisor, who then merely shut the door leaving us to deal with clearly biased and racist guards who became even more physical and refusing to see reason,” said the man. He said that the system at Home Affairs was flawed with mismanagement. “If they let the crowd into the premises which had many empty seats, they would not have behaved so badly in the first place. Suffice to say I chose to leave with my family to avoid any further altercation. These guards are totally incompetent and chose to allow the situation to become volatile by failing to maintain order and encouraging these line cutters to stand in front of those who were first,” he said.
A Parlock woman, who did not want to be named, and who was number nine in the queue on Friday witnessed the incident and the mismanagement of the people by security guards. “The guards were rude and called other people to come and stand in front of us. They were only taking in five people at a time. Even though my name was on the list, they were calling other people from behind to go ahead of me. The situation was getting out of hand, the supervisor was extremely rude and I saw the guard hitting a woman. I could not take it anymore and left,” she said.

A Home Affairs security guard in confrontation with the angry crowd

A complaint was lodged with the Deputy Director General of Institutional Planning and Support at Home Affairs, Thulani Mavuso.The Democratic Alliances Haniff Hoosen received the initial complaint. He immediatly escalated it to Mavuso’s office who Haniff said responded “within minutes”.
Home Affairs was further on the receiving end on Monday this week after security guards were again accused of allowing people in who came later and were far behind in the queue.

“I have number 31, how can a person with number 100 be allowed in before me? I saw someone allegedly pay the guard some money to get in before everyone else,” said an irate woman in the queue. Some people travelling on holiday within the next few days were worried that they would not get their passports in time. One person who was leaving for Mozambique today (Thursday) said that she has been waiting since November for her renewed passport, but the way things were at the moment with the service, “it does not seem that I will be going on holiday”, she said.

Nhlakanipho Khathi, 17, who needs his passport to travel to the United Kingdom to study electrical engineering, said that he too was worried because officials have now given 8 January as the next date for people to return to apply for their passports or ID.

“I need my passport so that I can apply for my visa to study in the UK,” he said. “We went to the offices in Commercial Road only to find it closed and I did not know why until we came here.” He arrived at the Umgeni offices at around 9am with a string of people ahead of him. A lady, who did not want to be named, went to apply for her smart card ID. She said that the system was offline since last week. “I have been here four days in a row coming at six in the morning. It is very unfortunate. We are having a difficult time, there is supposed to be a manager here at the branch and nobody has said anything to us,” she said.

“They are only sending the security out and they have no information for us. The people who work here are very incompetent. They care very little about the general public. All we asked is when the storm came is that we can at least sit inside and wait for the system. They locked the doors on us. We actually pay for this department to run, but we were left outside in the rain,” she said.

When The Weekly Gazette reporters arrived at the Home Affairs offices they found an angry crowd at the locked entrance calling the manager for an explanation. The police were let in through a side door and only a while later did the office manager, Musa Mngadi, and district manager, Tertia Smith, arrive to speak to the angry crowd.

District manager Tertia Smith addressing the people behind a closed gate on Monday

Smith confirmed that the system was offline throughout the country, and that the situation was beyond their control. “We will do what we can to accommodate everyone when the system does come back online, though we cannot say when.” She said that they did not allow people inside the waiting area as in the past because of the problems that employees experienced.
“We chose to have people queue outside because in the past the situation turned violent where there was damage to the property and some of our staff was assaulted. The safety of our staff is important,” said Smith. “We do not know why the system is offline. Unfortunately we cannot pay staff to work overtime, as they are already working under stress.”

When asked about why people who came in afterwards were allowed in first, Smith said that she was not aware of that and could not comment. On the matter of providing seating outside, she said that the building did not belong to them (government) and that Home Affairs could not do anything to provide outside seating or additional shelter against the weather. Mngadi confirmed that he did earlier address the crowd about the system going offline, much to their chagrin. He said that he told the crowd they had a choice to either wait or leave and return the next day. “For now, we cannot serve the people. Though they have been given a date for next year, anyone can still come back tomorrow, and if the system is back online we can give them preferential treatment,” said Mngadi. At the time of going to press the systems were back online.

According to Mavuso’s office they had challenges in particular on the live capture system. “The problem relates to the messaging between HANIS, the biometic data base. We have activated our DR site while fixing the problem,” said his office.

• On Wednesday morning when the Weekly Gazette again visited the Home Affairs offices in Umgeni Road, although there was still a queue outside, people were now allowed to use the seats inside while waiting.

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