A daily “strike” at home affairs

A daily “strike” at home affairs

Spent over an hour in the queue at Home Affairs last week just waiting to collect a passport for my daughter…it was sent to them on 13th May but more than 2 weeks later we still had not received the SMS to collect it so I went in to see if I could get it.

While sitting there 2 thoughts occurred to me. Firstly, the reason they call it home affairs is because you spend so much time there it eventually begins to feel like home.

On a more serious note though, the minister of Labour, Mildred Olpihant, has recently been lamenting the cost of the strikes to the SA economy. Specifically with respect to the number of working hours that were lost. According to an internationally accepted formula the cost is calculated by multiplying the number of workers involved by the number of hours each strike lasted. In 2012, the figure for SA was almost 17.3 million hours lost. This clearly has a massive impact on the already struggling SA economy.

However, while I was sitting at home affairs in Wynberg, a medium sized office according to them, I began to wonder about the number of hours “lost” to the SA economy as a result of people sitting in queues at places like home affairs. For starters, during the hour that I was there, at least 150-200 people were there at the same time – all waiting for some or other home affairs official to serve them.

There are apparently more than 230 home affairs offices around the country (according to their website) and they are open for at least 8 hours each day (7:30am – 3:30pm). If we conservatively assume that during any given hour there are 100 people waiting in a queue and then multiply this by the number of working days in SA (250) and then by the number of offices (230) we come out with a figure of 46 million hours “lost” as a result of people sitting in queues at home affairs offices in any given year. That is more than double the amount of hours lost to strikes.

To be fair, many people to whom I have spoken admit that the service at home affairs has improved dramatically – maybe so, but if you have 13 counters to serve customers (that’s what we are) and the customers are growing in number, then it is not acceptable that you only have 5 counters open. It took more than 4 hours to apply for and collect a passport (around 10 minutes was actually spent face to face with an official). It is also not acceptable to publish the telephone number of the office manager if she has no intention of ever answering her phone.

Government must not lament our unproductivity and the cost of strikes when there are at least twice as many “strikes” happening in home affairs alone each year. Talk about a loss to the economy (and we have not even begun to look at the number of hours spent in queues at SARS offices).