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Get your Home Affairs in order

Does Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma know what is happening in her department? I suspect not. The question has been posed by many frustrated Capetonians who have been battling for several years to get documents. The complaints relate specifically to unabridged birth and marriage certificates.

I have been married for a decade. I suspect it may take another ten years to get an unabridged marriage certificate. Without it I am unable to accomplish several official necessities. I feel like I'm being held at ransom by a disorganized monster. My better half has suggested we re-marry, just to wheedle the piece of paper.

Another example of Home Affairs' bad service was related to me by a Cape Town woman who adopted a baby early last year. She applied for an unabridged birth certificate for her long awaited daughter. Without it she could not open a bank account or even take her child with her into a gym. After I queried the delay, officials moved hastily to process the document. With amazing efficiency that was previously absent, the mom was told a few days later it was ready for collection from a Boland Home Affairs office. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

But she could do nothing other than burst into tears when she saw that precious birth certificate for the first time. It had the birth mother's details on it instead of hers. Now you may ask what the big deal is? Adoptions are confidential and an adoptive family never knows who the birth mother is. Officials scurried to rectify the error. What can be fixed on paper cannot be remedied in that mother's mind.

Western Cape Home Affairs chief Yusuf Simons has made himself available to personally address queries. He also has a complaints' line that is manned during office hours.

People applying for passports and identity documents have, however, praised the department for being efficient. The biggest problem appears to be getting documents that require some form of co-operation from head office in Pretoria.

Pretoria holds the keys to the archives, but there doesn't seem to be anyone willing to unlock the doors to the rooms that house all South Africans' records. What is the point of having archives if no-one wants to get the information, in order to process documents?

Simons is adamant Western Cape branch officials have contact numbers and email addresses of their colleagues in Pretoria. He says, "If we have queries from clients, they will attend to our queries." He admits, "There are millions of records in the archives and they are filed methodically, but there is a waiting period." But he adds, "The standard of commitment to deliver a document that requires an official to go into the archives, should take between three and six months". This does not appear to be the case, as a dozen new complaints landed on my desk after the story went on-air. One woman has been waiting thirty years for her marriage certificate. I guess I'm lucky then as I've only been waiting for ten years.

Many have expressed concern that Dlamini-Zuma's attention may have been diverted by her new job at the African Union. Those people, who have been waiting several years for a document, may have to wait a few more for someone to unlock the door to the archives in Gauteng.

Please use the contact numbers below if you are feeling as frustrated as I am. They have given me their word they will answer their cell phones.

You will need to be a bit more tenacious if you want to get through to someone on a landline in the Pretoria office. No-one returns calls, left on answering machines, but then again no-one picks up phones in what may just as well be offices occupied by ghosts.

Home Affairs Director General Mkuseli Apleni 082 449 7535

Western Cape Chief Director Yusuf Simons: 082 809 2142

Western Cape Complaints line: 083 947 2679

Giovanna Gerbi is an Eyewitness News Reporter.

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