The most non-racial place in SA

By Viv Vermaak

Bizarrely, the Department of Home Affairs in Alberton is one of the most non-racial places I’ve been in. When you first notice this fact, you think it should therefore also be one of the most democratic places you’ve been in. I spent 4 hours there recently, re-applying for a missing ID book. The place is raceless, genderless, classless – and yet warm and fuzzy feelings don’t attack you. You see, only two groups of people exist here: those with Forms and those without fucking Forms.

You don’t realize this while you are queuing outside. Outside, you are still rambunctious, swapping jokes and tsk-tsks with other mortals who have to get ID books or certificates. You complain about how slow the service is. When the security guard orders me out of the queue for eating a sandwich, I make a joke of it and go take a photo of myself eating it under the sign that says you are not allowed to eat or drink or take photos. Everyone laughs. We are united. The smell of Khum’baya mixes with the aroma of cheap fish and chips in the air.

Once you enter the Twilight Zone, you change. You become a form-feeding zombie. It happens slowly. The security guard orders us to go to a desk to get forms. I go to the wrong toonbank. I laugh and turn around asking for directions, but none are forthcoming. The other zombies who have been there for two hours just stare at you. I go the right queue, warding off queue-jumpers, chancers and pen-leeches, get my forms and hurry to take a seat in the queue of chairs, where one waits to be served. I start filling in the forms on my lap. The security guard orders me out of the chairs. ‘You cannot fill in the forms while sitting in the queue – go the counters.’ Why can I not fill in forms while I am in the queue? It will save me time!’ I ask, trying to sneak in a few more lines on the form. ‘I don’t make the rules’ says the security guard, with alarming authority. ‘I just enforce them.’ As a last resort, I look to my fellow chair-dwellers to see if I can start a revolution and topple the Form Nazi. Nobody looks. Everybody protects their seat in the chair-queue. In one horrible moment, I surrender. I imagine myself as one of those marching hammers in the Pink Floyd ‘the Wall’ video. I shrug intellectually. I fill in. I fall in. Now extrapolate what happens in that Alberton Home Affairs office – in attitude and in practice – and you have a whole country that is like that – not a democracy, but a bureaucracy.

My friend Ron, who was my companion on the trip had no such troubling thoughts. He was prepared. He had packed a ready-mix of ‘Rocketfuel’ (vodka and Oros) and surreptitiously sipped it throughout the adventure. A highlight was when we were almost at the front of the chair-queue and saw a middle-aged white business-Oompie approaching the guard outside. He had lots of forms but no time and furiously tapped his watch. ‘Uh-oh,’ says Ron. ‘Wrong move. Tapping your watch is like blood to a shark.’ Sure enough, Form Nazi orders him to a take a seat outside – even though there was still place inside. The man looks at us through the glass, looking for solidarity. We look away.

On the way out I ask the Security guard for a photo for Facebook.
“You are very good at your job,’ I say. ‘We don’t like what you do and we don’t like your rules and you make us very cross – but you are very good at it.’ He laughs heartily. ‘I can see I make you angry, but I have to do my job! Otherwise I am fired, you can understand?’ When I take the photo, the laughter is snuffed immediately and replaced with a stern stare. I guess you always have to look fierce to be a good Form-Nazi.

TOP TIPS GOING TO ALBERTON HOME AFFAIRS:

– Don’t lose your ID book in the first place!
– Go there with a pen. You just look like a poepol asking everyone with a pen for help! If you have a pen, don’t flash it – unless you are okay with losing your place in the queue lending your pen to others.
– Pack a ready-mix.
– Be careful of facebook ‘friends’ giving you ‘tips’ about how much better Alberton Home Affairs is compared to Germiston Home Affairs.

(17 April 2014)

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