HOME Affairs Yoh!
I arrive at the Marianhill licensing department at 6:20am. There is already a queue of about 50 people long (not counting old or pregnant people who, rightfully so, get to skip the line). In front of me; a guy who unashamedly digs in his nose. He really gets in there. I stare transfixed like a deer in headlights, in fact exactly like that deer in the Peter Rabbit movie Peter Rabbit). When I finally manage to force my attention away from nose digger guy, I meet the guy behind me. He has a defibrillator and might black out if he stands for too long (the licensing dept only opens at 7:45). Not to worry he says, the thing will shock him back to life. Still, he’d rather stick his finger in a power socket, “soooo unpleasant” he says. He goes to a government hospital and he once volunteered to be pumped full of adrenaline so that the medical students could see how it works. Hardcore.
He also has an autistic son who is a teenager and does not speak. Respect. My heart goes out to this guy. Behind him; an elderly couple. They’ve been married 56 years and she had recently had a knee replacement. They had good times and bad, they lost one child, but more good than bad, he says with a smile. The love is palpable. He proudly tells us that he had 6 million when he stopped working plus properties, and how they are now running out of funds. A lively conversation about Bitcoin ensues. The Financial Adviser behind the old couple gets involved. I need to pee.
7:45! They are about to open and the crowd stirs like a herd of cows. A very much in-charge-looking-lady swoops in and moves the elderly couple to the front of the queue. There is a collective sigh of relief as it is the right thing to do and also because I was getting increasingly uncomfortable with the money conversations with people all around who have so much less than we do. Just as well.
The old couple enter and Defibrillator guy and I figure we can estimate our waiting time by how long they take. Defibrillator guy calls it 14:30, I vote 11:30 and Finance guy calls it at 10:30. We wait. I hope D-guy won’t black out on me.
9ish: They are letting in 12 people or so at a time. We are next! We are amazed at how the metal detector beeps for roughly every third person and yet people are let through without being searched. Zero trust issues here. Finally I get called, I’m number 12 to enter and I’m so excited that I made the cut that I almost really pee my pants.
I expect 5 or so people to be in the queue in front of me. There are 47 (not counting old or pregnant people, nor walk ins who paid bribes). At least now we can sit down. The elderly couple is still there. His ringtone is one of a Kingfisher calling. It’s very loud as he is very old and for a few seconds everyone looks around to see where the poor puppy is being abused. Again, a collective sigh of relief as we all realise it’s just his phone. There are ‘No Cellphone’ signs everywhere. In Africa we are flexible like that. Another guy joins our small group who, by now, know way too much about each other. He is not shy to tell us that he paid the guy at the door R20 to skip the line. What the actual fuck.
Finance guy starts counting how many souls ahead of us and then loudly calculates “if it takes 15 minutes per person….We should be out of here by 1pm” he says. But he is not counting old or pregnant people, nor the walk ins and every time one waddles or zimmer frames past I nudge him and he starts his calculations all over again.
There are four people working behind these very efficient looking stations; lady #1 takes regular bathroom breaks. The guy next to her is clearly a traffic police officer as he is in uniform and just downright intimidating. Lady #2 is extremely strict and tends to shout at people when they fail their eye test. Lady #4 smiles and encourages people to smile for their photo. She must be high as she looks way too happy to work here. We all hope we land with her.
Two pregnant ladies later a very old lady comes in. Unfortunately for her she ends up with Lady #2. Lady #2 tells her very loudly that “the test has already begun, why are you not doing anything!?” This frustration is followed by a lecture to the whole room about precisely how to use the mini-joystick thingie to do your eye test. We can all actually see that this poor lady should really not be allowed behind the wheel of a car or any wheel of any sort. Lady #2 re-tests her four times until she finally passes the test. Holy shit! I love the really elderly (85+ and so on), but I could end up in a traffic circle with her with my kids in the car!
In addition to all the ‘No Cellphones’ signs there is one tiny sign, semi-hidden that states: “Our Mission – to deliver world class service“. On a blackboard there is a notice about “bringing proof of address in yo name“. Yoh! Run by gangsters I giggle, but no, these are all really friendly people who are trying their very best with minimum resources. I land up with intimidating uniform guy and I’m really nervous as my license expired ages ago (chemo and all that). I make it my mission to make us both laugh and after a few lame comments he cracks half a smile. I move my head during my eye test (this is ABSOLUTELY NEVER EVER allowed – as Lady #2 made extremely clear), but he patiently lets me go again. Finance guy gets called up next to me. He fails his eye test more than 4 times and he argues loudly that the machine must be faulty. He insists on being tested at a different machine. They march him off to “the Dr”.
Just as I pass my eye test our (uniform guy and I) machine goes offline. “See” I mouth to Defibrillator guy, “I told you I have extremely bad luck with SARS, Home Affairs, City of JHB” (a blog post for another time)….
12 Midday: I pee my pants. Either my bladder finally can’t handle anymore or from pure excitement, who knows? We move out of room 62 (the testing room) and on to the cashiers. Defibrillator guy is now ahead of me because of my machine going offline and all of that. R20 Bribe guy is there and skips the line to “make change” – nobody has the energy to take him on. Finance guy must be stuck in a dodgy room somewhere arguing with “the Dr”.
As I pay, an overweight, bald, white male traffic officer walks past. Just above his belt his underwear is showing. BEAR nogals. I smile. What a wonderful country we live in and what a chance to connect to others. A waste of time? Perhaps not – more like perspective giving.
Home Affairs in Africa is very much like HOME Affairs at home. Some peeing in pants, a lot of hurry up and wait, a whole lot of rule breaking, a lot of organised chaos. As long as we connect with each other we are good.
Ps. I realise that the licensing dept and Home Affairs are not the same, but in SA they really are pretty much the same in so many ways. Also – this post is in no way a comment on service levels, simply a tale told of my interesting, super long, and good experience yesterday.