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Staffing crisis at Home Affairs

Almost two-thirds of civic service posts are vacant in the department
The once efficient Cape Town office now has block-long queues from 6am

There is a critical shortage of staff at home affairs, resulting in day-long queues becoming a permanent feature outside their offices, and it won’t be sorted out in the near future.

Briefing Parliament on 31 August last year, Home Affairs Director General Livhuwani Makhode said only 37% of civic services posts were filled, adding that the 9,035 vacant posts were unfunded. This indicates none of the posts will be filled in the near future, and certainly not in the current budget cycle.

Adding to the staff shortage, Makhode told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs that Saturday working hours had been discontinued due to union pressure, there was inadequate leadership and front-office space, unstable systems, inefficient workflow processes, and uncoordinated communication strategies.

The long queues outside the Barrack Street offices in Cape Town are testament to the problems mentioned by Makhode, with unstable network systems regularly bringing the capturing and processing of documents to a standstill.

Makhode told the portfolio committee that the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) was “being engaged” to stabilise the network system and would upgrade its switching centres and expand its core network to reduce regional network outages, while dilapidated routers and switches were being upgraded by the Department of Home Affairs.

The Barrack Street offices used to be able to process and ID application during a lunch hour. In 2017, it took less than an hour to apply for a passport renewal.

But when Mother City News went there shortly before noon on 15 November last year, people outside the doors said they had been queuing since 7am yet had still not got into the building. At 6am a few days later, the queues (one for ID applications and one for passport applications) stretched about 40m down the road. At 6.30am on 22 February, the queues stretched all the way to Mavericks strip club, a distance of about 80m.

Informal opportunities

The dysfunction at home affairs has created opportunities for informal sector entrepreneurs. A group of about 20 homeless people have taken to sleeping on the street outside the Barrack Street office. As the queue starts gathering from as early as 5am, they sell their place at the front for R100 to latecomers arriving after 6am.

With about 200 people lined up, and the security guard having handed out numbers down the line, Andy Pierce was selling his place in the queue, number 14. At 27 years old, Pierce said he’s been living on the street since his mother died when he was 16. He said his father, who was violent, had left the home in Eersterivier. He gets some money by helping a trader on the Grand Parade offload and sell his goods twice a week, but getting a job in the formal economy is almost impossible as he never attended school. Asked why, he said when in Grade 1 in Bonteheuwel, other children broke his leg because he was able to run faster than them. He never went back, his mother taught him to read and write.

Andy Pierce was one of about of score of homeless people who sleep outside the Barrack Street offices in order to keep a place at the front of the early morning queue, selling it for R100 to latecomers. Photo: Steve Kretzmann/WCNbinary comment

With people having to line up for five hours or more before getting inside, 29-year-old Swazi Beja is earning an income hiring out plastic chairs.

Charging R5 per chair, Beja said he started his business in October after seeing someone doing it outside the Home Affairs offices in Bellville. He bought 50 chairs for R600, and makes at least R250 per day, but says he has to pay R250 a week to store them nearby.

He said people start hiring chairs from 6am, but business is usually slow until midday when people get tired and the shade disappeared.

While speaking to him, a woman hired two chairs, one for herself and one for her daughter, who was missing a day of school in order to apply for her ID. Beja disinfected and wiped the chairs down before handing them to her, offering to carry them to her place in the queue. He said he had completed a business course at the College of Cape Town

Impact of state dysfunction

But while informal entrepreneurs are able to benefit from failures within home affairs, it is hampering people’s ability to work, study, find employment, and take advantage of opportunities. Ashley Ramushwana was taking his second day off work in order to try apply for his passport in order to take up the opportunity of working on a movie in Thailand. The former College of Magic student was number 75 in the passport application queue and it took from 7am to noon to near the Home Affairs office doors.

“They hand out 80 numbers a day,” said Ramushwana, “when the offices opened (at 8am), the queue was to the corner of the block.”

Speaking to Mother City News on a Monday, he said he had initially come to home affairs at 10am the previous Friday to discover he would not get served and would have to return and line up early on Monday.

Even though he was near the door after queuing for five hours, he said an official had stepped out to warn them the system could go offline at any time and they might have to leave.

He had checked the home affairs website to see if he could apply online but had no success.
“The website is rubbish,” he said.

Sihle Cutshwa, 24, from Dunoon, was also in the queue, enduring the midday sun with her 10-month-old baby girl Kanya in order to apply for her ID card, which she lost when her phone was stolen, as she kept it in her phone cover.

Luvuyo Ngqaza was spending a second day queuing, this time to collect his ID. With the collections queue being shorter and moving faster, he had arrived at 9am and was at the front of the queue at 11.45. But to apply for his ID two weeks earlier, he had arrived at 6am and only left at 3.30pm after being helped.

Unemployed, he struggled to get the money to travel from Hout Bay where he lives, to the city centre twice, as well as paying the R140 to get a new ID card.

Numerous other people spoken to informally told of of having to take days off work, struggling to obtain money for transport and fees if unemployed, parents having to take their children out of school, and job seekers unable to look for work until they obtained their ID.

No response to questions about when funding would be obtained and civic service posts filled was received from home affairs.