A trip to Home Affairs

queue

I have never been a fan of early mornings. As a child I was known for being happy to go to school, but a few days into the week I would protest saying, ‘But I was there just yesterday and the day before that.’ 

But then I lost my wallet, which had my national identity document along with my bank cards and the few notes that were meant to carry me through the dreaded January disease. So I had to process new documents. Every Zimbabwean knows that, from as far back as we can remember, this means an early morning.

Every Zimbabwean knows that, from as far back as we can remember, this means an early morning.

Had I gone to the offices in Harare, where I now live, my fingerprints would have to be verified at the station where I first took my ID, and verification would take a week or more.

Queues

So I found myself queuing at Msitheli Home Affairs office in Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. There is quite some history in this town, personal history too, it’s my home town.

My ordeal started at 6 am, when I joined a long queue outside the premises. The government busses that ferry workers only arrived at around 7:25 am, while the gates opened to the public at around 8 am.

The culture of queuing takes me back down memory lane, to the early 2000s. While queues were tedious, they became a necessary evil and the core order of the day. At one point Zimbos would joke,“If you see people in a queue just join, you will figure out later what it is for.”

Bureaucracy

Abalande amaID straight abamaBirth es’hlahleni” instructed the guard, advising us to go straight if we had come for IDs and to wait under the gnarly tree if there for a birth certificate. 

What a relief! The long queue in the morning divided almost into half, I proceeded straight to the IDs. The line was further broken down when the attendants asked those who were only accompanying others to go sit elsewhere, “abaphelekezela abanye kabaphume bayehlala ngale”

Even better, I thought. The attendant then removed the newbies who were present to get their IDs for the first time so they could make their own line. 

All this shortening of the queue made me think I should be done by 12 or 1pm at the latest. I was convinced it would be an in and out job. 

As we entered, the attendants gave each of us small terribly written, numbered cards. On to another line outside. This line was for meeting the supervisor, who would then tell you where to go next. Talk about unnecessary bureaucracy!

Corruption

Throughout all this I would see some people going in past the queue, and leaving the offices holding their IDs with joy and relief. It beat me, but the basic consensus from most of us in the queue, myself concluded, was that it was the work of a bribe.

10 am came by, and you know that thing they say about civil servants and their break time and lunch time? It’s true. Offices close, and you see them walking from one point to the other carrying boiling kettles. 

All that enthusiasm in the morning that I would be in and out started sinking, given the progress of the lines, which the staffers would often disturb as they would escort some people in and out of the offices  while the early birds were queuing to enter. 

“I am also a civil servant like you”

At one point after lunch, frustration became the order of the day, this one lady shouted at the staffers who were escorting other people into the offices. 

“Stop cheating us! Some of us we have been here since morning and I am also a civil servant like you” she fumed, despite her plight falling on deaf ears.

Frustration

I still hadn’t had any meal on the day, fearing that the frustrated members in the queue would turn on me upon my return, citing they had not seen me in the queue. It had happened to someone earlier. So I stuck to the queue and shuffled from one office to the next.

Finally I got my ID, which at least looked cooler that the one I had lost. 

I couldn’t help thinking, in a perfect world the Home affairs should not turn a blind eye on the fact that corruption is something real, it’s breeding at their offices. 

It’s hard not to think that the unnecessary bureaucracy is a ploy to motivate people to take the corrupt route.

Decentralizing of duties is also important; the first queue, where I spent over two hours, was only to see the Supervisor who would tell you what office to go to. Seriously. 

Finally, we need to update our processes. In the present age, it should be possible to get documents online without too much hustle. 

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