The surrealist’s day

November 13 2012

So far, my experiences with South African bureaucracy haven’t been too bad as bad as I was led to believe they might be. There’s been long queues and waiting around for things to get done, but my biggest issues have been with the UK company that’s handling our household goods. And the banks – but they deserve a post all of their own.

The only real problem with government bureaucracy is the amount of paperwork that needs to be countersigned by notaries just to do the silliest of things, which involves finding a photocopier, driving to a police station, queueing – and all for a document that could be easily forged and no-one’s going to check anyway. So long as you have the right paperwork, processes are fairly smooth it seems.


A month ago, I applied for my invisible visa. The one that lets me live in the country as the spouse of a South African citizen and also lets me work. It’s called a Temporary Residence: Spousal Visa (section 11.6) It doesn’t really seem exist in law, can’t be applied for outside of the country and yet everyone at the Department of Home Affairs knows what it is and how to apply for one.

The process is tedious, but fairly straightforward. I takes 30 days, according to the rules, and mine was supposed to be ready yesterday.

Before you collect a permit, the DHA usually SMS you to say it’s ready. Since I hadn’t received the SMS yesterday morning, I thought I’d call ahead rather than brave the traffic of downtown Joburg and the inevitable two hour queue at their quite spectacularly grimy offices.

The lady I spoke to took my number and said she’d call back within 24 hours. Today’s phone call went something like this:

“Hi, I called yesterday to see if my visa was ready, and someone said they’d call me back within 24 hours. I thought I’d call since that was yesterday morning, and you might have my number wrong.”

“Ah sir, can I have your passport number and application reference please.”

I oblige.

“I see sir. It says here that you called yesterday and the lady you spoke to said she’d call you back in 24 hours.”

“That’s right. That was yesterday at 8am, so I was just a bit concerned…”

“Sir, you do realise that 24 hours can be two days don’t you.”

I laugh, thinking this is an ironic remark about ‘Africa time’ or something.

“Yes, quite. Ha, ha. I should probably get my clocks fixed then.”

(Deadpan) “So my colleague will call you back before tomorrow morning sir.”

“Huh? What?”

“24 hours can be two days you see.”

“…um…OK…I’ll speak to her tomorrow then.”

“Thank you sir. Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

“Do you mean yesterday, or tomorrow? I’m very confused.”

In other news, the communist party of South Africa – a key parliamentary partner of the ruling ANC – today called for a law to be introduced which would outlaw defamatory remarks about the president. To protect “the dignity of office”, satire must be punishable by law. I’m not sure whether this is scary totalitarianism on a par with what’s going in Greece or just some idiots who still think Stalin got it right.

I’m going to laugh at them, just to be on the safe side. Although in a country where the government is busy bulldozing the homes of people who’ve managed to pull themselves out of the slums*, anything is possible.

*Obviously they aren’t bulldozing the hotels and rich people’s houses on the other side of the road.

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