Zimbabweans in South Africa who need to apply or renew their passports are struggling to access the online application portal to process their applications. The online application system is facilitated by the Zimbabwean Consulate in South Africa, where applicants book appointment slots so they can go collect passport forms which they then submit at the Registrar general offices in Zimbabwe. The booking is only done on Wednesdays at 4 pm but only a few have managed to access the online portal as the system ‘always’ says it is ‘fully booked’.
Zimbabweans who spoke to CITE complained how the application process was a major setback. “You can only book every Wednesday for a passport application form. The forms are then submitted in Zimbabwe. To collect that passport application form, you need to book a slot for an appointment at the consulate so that you collect the passport form and this is only done on Wednesdays,” said Grace Moyo who needs to renew her passport. The matter also blew up on micro-blogging site -Twitter as users shared their horrific experiences in dealing with the online application system.
In an interview with CITE, Chairman of the Zimbabwean Community in South Africa, Ngqabutho Nicholas Mabhena, confirmed Zimbabweans were facing challenges with the online application system, adding there was a fear that should the South African government make a call to renew work permits, some would have no passports.
“The online applications system is challenging as one has been given an appointment in order to receive passport forms. This booking is only done on Wednesday at 4 pm so people are struggling to set those appointments and collect the passport forms,” he said.
Mabhena indicated the Zimbabwean Consulate had specified it could only serve a limited number but the problem was the portal always seemed to be fully booked. “I don’t have the specific number that is given slots as the consulate says it can only serve a particular number – about 150 people per time but I am not sure. However, you find that within a minute when the system is opened for bookings, it is already full,” he cited. “So a person who logs in after two minutes after 4 pm, will find the system is already closed because the daily number would have been reached.”
Mabhena noted that failure to access passport forms was a challenge, as Zimbabweans needed the document to apply or renew their South African permits. Contacted for comment, Zimbabwe Ambassador to South Africa, David Hamadziripi, confirmed that the Zimbabwean consulate was aware of the challenges faced by applicants but could not accommodate people physically due to Covid-19 restrictive measures.
“I can confirm the online booking system for the Consulate in Johannesburg opens every Wednesday at 4 pm for bookings for the following week. We book 55 clients per hour which translates to 275 clients per day,” he said. “The service is provided from Monday to Friday. We are aware that the platform fills up within a very short space of time. For instance, last week it filled up in a record five minutes while today (Tuesday) it filled up in eight minutes.”
The ambassador noted there was a significant backlog of nationals who wished to apply for passports but it was a “consequence of the lockdown restrictive measures that were put in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.” Nevertheless, Hamadziripi said it was the consulate’s ‘earnest’ wish and desire to clear the backlog in the shortest time possible.
The Registrar-General offices in Zimbabwe remained closed for the greater part of 2020 during the Covid- 19 induced lockdown period but opened briefly towards the end of the year with priority given to those working outside the country. This was short-lived as Zimbabwe was placed on another lockdown on January 5 this year, which was continuously extended.
The government also increased passport fees, which saw an ordinary passport increased to US$60, a three-day passport – US$200 or ZWL equivalents with an emergency 24-hour passport remaining at US$318.
Mabhena said they had even engaged the Zimbabwean government about passport prices as a number of people were failing to raise the US$318.
“We hope once the country opens up, the gazetted new passport fee structure may be implemented to allow those outside the country, particularly in South Africa, to apply for an affordable US$60 passport,” he said.
Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology