Long queues take toll at home affairs

TEST OF PATIENCE: Home Affairs systems being offline have caused long queues of frustrated citizens in East London Picture: RANDELL ROSKRUGE
TEST OF PATIENCE: Home Affairs systems being offline have caused long queues of frustrated citizens in East London Picture: RANDELL ROSKRUGE
Hundreds of citizens who needed help from the East London Home Affairs department had to wait for hours in long queues yesterday morning due to a network failure.

Some citizens sat on the pavement, others stood in line shielding their faces with newspapers and documents from the scorching sun.

Some had been there for over three hours. Home affairs staff came out regularly to update them on the delay and urge patience as there was no knowing how long it would last.

Nomawethu Cethu, 68, who was accompanied by her nephew Luphawu Cethu, 16, from Mooiplaas, said this was the second time she had returned to home affairs recently.

Last week she went home empty-handed after a long wait but this time the line seemed far worse.

Cethu said although staff members updated them when they were on and off line, they needed to find other ways to cut the line down.

“I am old and cannot stand in this line for a long time. I was here last week and decided to go home because the line was too long. As much as the staff workers say they can’t work when the system is down, they have to find other ways to control the queues,” she said.

Khanyisa Masembathe said she had taken the day off work to apply for a new smart ID card as she had heard that the old green ID books were being phased out.

Masembathe felt she had no choice but to wait as she could not take another day off to come and get a new ID.

“I’ve been here since half seven and the line keeps getting worse. So many people have already turned back, but I have to stand because I won’t be able to take another day off work to come for the new ID.”

Provincial manager at home affairs, Gcinile Mabula, said ID cards would be good for at least another seven years despite rumours to the contrary.

Commenting on the queues, he said every year at this time home affairs offices in the province faced long queues and network failures.

When citizens went on holiday over the festive season they did not need home affairs but when they returned to work and school they all flocked for documents.

Another reason for the long queues was that many staff members had not yet returned from leave and the department was short-staffed.

The manager said the department fully depended on The State Information Technology Agency (SITA) for network in order to function and very often the network was down and caused the system to crash.

Mabula said the time it took for the network to be restored varied and was beyond their control.

All they could do was inform citizens who were queuing to be patient or to return another day.

Mabula added that the department was aware that there were posts circulating on social media regarding green ID books not being valid after March 31.

Although this was not true, Mbalula said the department encouraged citizens to get their new ID cards before any expiry date is set.

“The new smart ID card system was put in place in 2013 to be implemented over seven years.

“Only after this will the old green books be invalid.

“In the meantime we encourage citizens not to wait until the last minute to come to the department for services to avoid being forced to wait when the queues are long,” he said.