BATHO PELE? NOT HERE
Corruption at Joburg’s Harrison Street Home Affairs office: Paying your way to the front of the queue
The Home Affairs department is notorious for corruption — for its officials who abuse their positions for ‘cold drink money’. Last week, after hearing complaints from people in Soweto, Maverick Citizen columnist Tshabalira Lebakeng visited the department’s offices in central Johannesburg. This is what he found.
- Please note we received comment from Home Affairs on 16 February and have added it to the bottom of the article.
On Wednesday, 9 February 2022, there was a fight between the people and the security at the Home Affairs office in Harrison Street, Johannesburg, due to bribes over the buying of services.
A gentleman who was there told me that a Xhosa-speaking woman was very vocal in raising her concerns, but was not taken seriously. They complained that since the morning, a security guard had been writing ID numbers in a book and openly taking R200 from frustrated customers.
In the afternoon, the line came to a standstill and only those whose names were in the book were allowed inside. That’s when all hell broke loose and customers manhandled the guard. He dropped the book, spilling R200 notes onto the ground, and then ran away. The other security guards claimed not to know him, even though he was wearing the same uniform.
When I visited the line on Friday, a man I interviewed told me that “a man wearing private clothes was writing on a piece of paper and he came to me and asked for R100”. The man told him the strategy is to frustrate the customers so that they buy a number and then give it to clerks inside to process and call them to sign.
The question asked by people in the queue is: Is it true that the system is slow or is it being manipulated? How different is the system from the one at Maponya Mall? How long will it take to be like this? Is the head office aware of this problem? The staff are saying they should be paid overtime so that they can work late, but are they also manipulating the system?
On Friday, I rushed to see the disgrace of the Harrison Street Home Affairs office. When I got there, I saw a young student who was wearing her school uniform. She was standing in this long line. The sun was hot like hell. She didn’t have an umbrella to protect herself.
I asked her how long she’s been waiting to go in. She told me she’s been there since seven in the morning. I asked her if the officials saw her, because she’s supposed to be in school. I was asking her that question because students, senior citizens, newborn babies’ mothers and disabled people should be the first priority.
The young student told me that the officials told her “all people are the same”.
When I looked in that line, there were ladies being cooked by the sun with their babies. A 45-year-old gentleman was holding a small piece of paper. He came to me and asked if I’m from a newspaper.
He told me he’s from Noordgesig in Soweto and has been “running up and down to these hell offices”. He told me he just came to collect his ID. But he’s not getting it because at any time the officials will cut the line whenever they want. He says he used his R350 grant money for transport to travel up and down. He is hungry, but he can’t get food because he doesn’t know if he will be helped or he will be coming back tomorrow.
I saw a 30-year-old man sitting on the pavement with his head resting on his hand and asked him, “Indoda ayihlali kanjalo kubuhlungu kuphi?” (“A man is not sitting like that… what is wrong?”)
He replied, “Grootman, ngithole itoho manje lezinja zingifuna imali ye coldrinki ukuze zingifohlise ngizoyi thathaphi njengo nginjena anginalutho.” (“My brother, I got a small job. But these dogs, they want cold drink money to put me at the front of the line. I don’t know if I should go home or wait for another three hours. I am from Tembisa. It’s a lot of money to come here. If I leave now, I won’t be able to come back tomorrow. Maybe if we can give back the power to the white people. Black people are playing and abusing their power.”
I also found a 62-year-old woman from Diepkloof and her 24-year-old daughter in the line. Her daughter told me she had been coming here for four days to collect her ID.
On day one, they told her they couldn’t find her ID. On the second day, the officials stopped the line when she was about to go in and told her and other people they must come the next morning. The same thing happened on the third day and so on up to the fifth day.
The sun, it’s hot and they’re hungry.
Her mother was angry — very angry. “The government is treating South Africans like kaka. (My daughter) is getting taxed R5,000 a month, but this is the rubbish customer service she gets from the criminals who call themselves the government.
“If the system crashes every day, it shows the government is failing to provide for its people. If the minister can’t do his job, he must go home and sleep — he is old. If Motsoaledi [the Minister of Home Affairs] can’t help us, he must give other people a chance to work. Our government, what they know is how to eat and misuse the money.”
Cold drink money
She went on: “Listen, my son, these officials don’t hesitate to come to us outside here and ask for cold drink money. They know that no one will arrest them. They should be ashamed of themselves. You can ask anyone here… they will tell you about cold drink money.”
Next, I went to a group of young people who were talking among themselves. I asked them about cold drink money. They told me the security guard came to them and said that “if they want to go inside they must have R100 for each person”.
They told the man he must go to hell — they don’t have money.
They told me that Indians and foreign nationals pay because they have the money and they get help on time. They told me they witnessed Indians paying as a group and being picked from the line and going straight to the door.
The young people told me some of them are from the Vaal, Sebokeng, and others from Orange Farm and Soweto. Transport is very expensive and they don’t have money to pay bribes.
They said that on Thursday morning at 8.30, officials told them they were cutting the line because it was full inside and the system was slow. They were surprised because the offices had only just opened.
“What is working here is R100 or R200. If you don’t have that money? You will stand here in the sun or in the rain.”
They said the security guards had told them to wake up at 3am. They must be in the first 100 in the line. If they come at 5am, they won’t get in.
I went up to the security guard and pretended I was there to collect an ID. He said I must wait for my chance to come in. I told him my boss wants my ID and that if I don’t have it by tomorrow I will lose my job. He said I must come tomorrow at 3am, like the others, if I want to be number one.
Then I asked the guard if I could see the manager. He opened the door and I went inside. Another security took me to the supervisor. I introduced myself. He told me he is not supposed to talk to journalists, but what he can say is that there are thousands of IDs to be given to people, so they can’t help more than that.
When I asked about cutting off the line in the early hours of the morning, he said “I’m going deep now, I should go”.
I think that “cold drink money” fuels xenophobia because South Africans think that foreign nationals get helped faster when they have money and they are more respected than they are. If you are number one in the line, an official comes and handpicks 10 people who are behind you and helps them. You are left standing with your number one: that’s more than humiliation — it’s nonsense.
If hundreds of people are shouting about corruption and cold drink money, it shows that Harrison Street Home Affairs is corrupt. The media is needed to stop corruption there.
It was a horror to see senior citizens fried by the sun. Newborn babies cooked by the sun. We can’t sit and watch government departments playing merry-go-round when they are supposed to help the people who are voting for them.
Who should be arrested for corruption — the minister or his staff? Motsoaledi, do your job or go to sleep. Give other kids a chance to do better.
Despite attempts to get comment from the Department of Home Affairs and promises to respond by 5pm on 15 February, none was forthcoming on 15 February at 9pm. We commit to publish any response that is sent to us after publication.
The Department of Home Affairs’s spokesperson Siya Qoza responded on 16 February: The Department did receive complaints from the public about allegations of bribery in Harrison Office in Johannesburg. These allegations linked this practice to some homeless people selling queue tickets in the early hours of the morning.
In the short-term, the Department has asked the security company looking after the office to have visibility from 05:00 in order to mitigate against selling of tickets. That office has designed tickets with special features including different colours such that everyday a different type of ticket is issued after the opening of the office for the day. This makes tickets issued by this syndicate irrelevant and unusable.
In addition, the Department has the Counter Corruption Branch which investigates and brings to book all officials who are alleged of wrongdoing. They operate in all areas of Home Affairs and an office such as the one on Harrison Street has attracted their attention.
We encourage members of the public to report wrongdoing to the Department of Home Affairs Counter Corruption Hotline on 012 406 71 88 or send an email to [email protected] They can also contact the National Anti-Corruption Hotline on 0800 701 701
Any person visiting a Home Affairs office can ask to speak to the office manager. The pictures, names and phone numbers of office managers are posted on noticeboards inside our offices. DM/MC
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