South Africa

HELL AFFAIRS

‘Assaulted’ by staff and robbed in the queue — another day in the life of Home Affairs clients

Illustrative Image: Thousands of immigrants, mostly from Zimbabwe, wait in line at the Department of Home Affairs on July 25, 2011 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Mary-Ann Palmer)

As part of our ongoing coverage of Home Affairs issues across the country, Daily Maverick has been visiting branches and asking readers to engage with us about their personal experiences of Home Affairs service. We are also monitoring reported incidents across the country. Below are two cases that go beyond the regular offline and long queue woes.

Since April Daily Maverick has been investigating service delivery at Home Affairs branches. Many of the reported stories to date emphasise the dysfunctionality of the department at offices across the country, to say the least.

We have since been alerted to two alarming alleged incidents, which we sought response from Home Affairs about.

‘I was assaulted at the Home Affairs national office in Pretoria for asking for service’

On 3 June, 2022, Mtheza Gengele, an Eastern Cape-based pastor, flew from East London to Gauteng to enquire about a long-awaited BI-1663 — a notification of death for his late sister at the Home Affairs national office in Pretoria. Gengele said his family had long since applied for the BI-1663 and paid for it on 12 January 2021. 

Gengele told Daily Maverick he was met with great hostility from staffers at the Home Affairs office, who assaulted him.

Gengele alleges he sustained injuries to his back, the rib areas and sides after several staffers kicked him, grabbed him by the neck and dragged him to a dark passage. He claimed further that they threatened to kill him for asking for service.

“For 18 months I had been waiting to get the BI-1663 form in East London but still nothing. I have been to local, district, regional and provincial offices and there was no response. Hence I took the matter up with the national office of Home Affairs via email … They said in 10 working days I will have the form. But after those 10 days, I still didn’t have the form and there was no longer a response from the national office. So my wife and I flew down to Gauteng and went straight to the national office on the 3rd of June 2022 to enquire and try to get assistance in person there. 

“A Home Affairs official attended to us… Not only was I trying to get the BI-1663 form but I also wanted to apply to be a marriage officer and to enquire about opening a funeral parlour. Then she asked where are you from? When I said I’m from Eastern Cape, she started telling me that this is a national key point. I showed her the email correspondences between myself and the national office echoing that I couldn’t get help in East London.

“She wouldn’t listen to me. She said they don’t attend to such matters and I should go to a public office. I disputed that and emphasised that this was a public office and their job was to render the service because, after all, they are public servants. But she said and made sure I am not serviced while continuing to chat with her colleagues.

“I then decided to check in the near passage if there was nobody else who could help. She came towards me and grabbed me by my t-shirt and suddenly there were a lot of them. I couldn’t even count how many they were and I was dragged down the passage and out of the offices and they locked me out… Luckily my wife managed to take a video while I was being dragged. They had noticed that so while I was locked outside they forced my wife to delete the video. She was clever enough to send it elsewhere before deleting it.

Caption: Home Affairs officials drag Mtheza Gengele out of the home affairs national office in Pretoria on 3 June 2022. Video supplied 

“When the doors opened again I went back inside the offices now looking for my wife so we could just leave. I found myself on the floor and being kicked by so many people then dragged again through a very dark passage in the opposite direction of the entrance into an isolated place where they kept me for two hours and kicked me everywhere. Two more guys approached and one female police came. They kicked me as well until they saw my GEMS medical aid card fall off my wallet.”

Gengele claims once the assailants saw his medical aid and noticed he was a government employee they stopped.

 “The chief director of the department came with some staff members and he said it was wrong of us to go to the national office. So they’re supposed to open a case… Then I told him that it’s fine because I’m also going to open a case against the Minister of Home Affairs. So I took my wife and headed to the nearest police station.”

Gengele said he went to the Pretoria Central police station to open an assault case, but he was not successful. So he and his wife headed back to East London the following day without the form or having made a successful application to be a marriage officer or enquired about the funeral parlour.

The police station was not able to assist Daily Maverick without a case number, which Gengele did not have as his attempt to lodge a case was unsuccessful.

Gengele said he has since received the BI-1663 form. He claims the national office couriered it to local Home Affairs in East London. However, he says the department has been quiet about the assault. 

Gengele says he has communicated the case to various commissions, associations and government officials including the Minister of Home Affairs and the Presidency as well as human rights advocates but no one has responded.

“As it is, no one is trying to attend to the situation… Even the human rights advocate I had found to represent me withdrew. I see this as more of spiritual warfare,” told Gengele said.

Department of Home Affairs’ response

In response to the incident, the Department of Home Affairs has said they are unaware of the assault of a reverend Mtheza Gengele.“However, we are aware that he was forcibly dragged out of a building.”

 Siyabulela Qoza, spokesperson for the Minister of Home Affairs, said an investigation into the matter was instituted and a preliminary report was duly completed.

“The preliminary report, flowing from the investigation that we conducted, showed that this was a clear case of trespassing and infringement of established security arrangements, rules and protocols by which the National Key Points are governed. It was unfortunate that an adult man like Mr Mtheza Gengele had to be dragged out in the manner that it happened. We do not condone such acts. We hope that the pregnant security officer who alleges was assaulted by Gengele did not incur serious injuries.”

See also in Daily Maverick: Readers share their sorry tales 

‘We were robbed in the queue’

On the 28th of October 2021, Luis Dias, a resident and senior citizen of Klerksdorp was robbed while queuing with her granddaughter to apply for her granddaughter’s passport and her ID card at Klerksdorp Home Affairs. This is her story.

“While standing in line outside I saw that several youngsters with expensive Adidas and Nike T-shirts and windcheaters were also standing in line.

“I was sure they were there to rob people of their possessions so I told my granddaughter to watch out for them, but in the meantime somebody phoned me.

“I told my granddaughter to answer and I would keep an eye on things. But they were so fast — they grabbed the phone out of her hand and ran away. I ran after him and that’s when three other guys tackled me and tried to steal my wallet out of my jeans.

“I am 77 years old but luckily fit, so they came away with a few bruises and without a wallet.  SAPS was not on-site… One does not report these incidents because it’s even more dangerous around the police station than anywhere else in Klerksdorp.

“But then again safe Home Affairs is wishful thinking — they could not care less. We reported it to the security guy in charge but he just stared at us and told us to wait in the queue. 

“No one offered us protection. My granddaughter was afraid and wanted to go home but I was adamant to finish what we went for, because in no way did I want to come back some other day and stand in the queue again for more than an hour. 

“So my granddaughter phoned a friend and he came to stand with us in the queue because we were unsure if the attackers would come back for the wallet they failed to steal from me, so we went in and waited inside for another half an hour and applied for our ID cards.”

Daily Maverick reached out to Klerksdorp Home Affairs to enquire further on the above incident and how it happened outside their offices.

It took about four days for Klerksdorp Home Affairs to respond with claims that ‘systems were offline’ — a normal excuse at Home Affairs which Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi has blamed on power supply issues, cable theft and vandalism as well as ageing equipment and an unstable network that led to infrastructure issues, as reported by Businesstech.

Klerksdorp Home Affairs’ response 

“I don’t remember this incident but can acknowledge that such incidents are happening around Klerksdorp CBD even in front of the office.”

This was the response of Ellen Dontso, the acting director of Klerksdorp Home Affairs in the Kenneth Kaunda district when asked about the above incident.

She said the following measures are in place to ensure safety and effective service to security for clients:

  1. Members of SAPS and private security companies are patrolling around the offices;
  2. A waiting space inside the offices has been created for clients, who will only queue outside when all spaces are full;
  3. Services are being sped up by deploying managers to the front desk to assist the client as speedily as possible;
  4. Any client who requests to be escorted to the vehicle is done by the security;
  5. All elderly persons are given service preference and do not need to queue;
  6. Queue marshalling is conducted in and outside the office;
  7. When queues are long the office always opens early at 07h30 instead of 08h00 and closes “late” to deal with customers; and
  8. Officials are always committed to assisting all clients as fast as they can.

Donsto further says that the department’s newly introduced booking system allows clients to book specific appointment time slots before visiting the Home Affairs branch for service. She says the booking system will prevent any inefficiencies and inconvenience at branches, including long queues, as it affords an option not to queue at all.

The Home Affairs story is ongoing, readers can still share their experience of service at their respective Home Affairs offices by filling in this quick survey

Read further reports on Home Affairs here:

Road to Nowhere — a day in a Hell Affairs queue

Queue, the beloved country — Welcome to Aaron Motsoaledi’s dysfunctional Department of Home Affairs

Stellenbosch waiting game — Is this among the worst Home Affairs offices in South Africa?

Hell Affairs: Disabled SA students risk becoming stateless as Home Affairs repeatedly refuses ID applications

MPs rip into Motsoaledi over department’s ‘sins’ – long queues, offline systems and shambolic immigration services

There have been some relatively positive stories, to date:

Caledon Home Affairs: A touch of relative functionality in the countryside

Raders have also shared their suggested solutions:

Readers share their solutions to the breakdowns at Home Affairs

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