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The Quicksand of Bureaucracy

Mindfulness Practice for Foreign Nationals in RSA

I love South Africa. I want to stay here. I’ll get permanent residency.

I look into the application process. I can either apply under the Extraordinary Skills category, or as a Spouse of an SA national. My ego likes the idea of extraordinary skills. I have my PhD from Wits in a cardboard tube, but realise that I will have to get my overseas certificates accredited by SITA. This is bound to take months and cost a fortune, and the word on the street is that this is a difficult category to qualify under. I speak to my ego and ask for its understanding. I’ll be a wife; maybe not so helpful for the nation, but helpful for my husband. But now I have to wait 5 years after marrying to prove that this is real, not a marriage of convenience to be allowed the privilege of living here. I practice patience, which is not my strongest quality. I wait 5 years.

The magic date arrives and I try to apply online. A few years ago, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) realised that they could not cope with the number of visa applications. They were taking months. So they employed the services of VFS Global, a for-profit company that helps governments to process visas. It still takes months, but there is a charge for their services (R1350) and the additional layer of the inhuman computer interface. I set up a username and password, and look through the website to see how to apply. I teach a yoga class. I come back to the website which says, “You can only use one login at a time and hence need to log out from existing login to log in again for a new account.” (that is not made up!) It sounds like the rules of cricket, where you need to be in to go out, and others are trying to get you out to get an innings. I send the screen shot to the helpline and a couple of days later am told to close my browser windows and wait for some time and then try to log in again. It doesn’t sound hopeful. But I fiddle around and something works. I am in.

I have to tell the computer where I have lived since I was 18 years old. Oh my goodness. I start with the UK. I move to Botswana. I quietly leave out Thailand. I now come to South Africa, but low and behold, there is no ‘South Africa’ in the drop-down menu. What to do? I email the helpline again. A few days later I am told that it is the ‘Republic of South Africa’. I feel stupid, and practice self-compassion. These inhuman interfaces make us all feel stupid.

I complete the application. It’s long. My parent’s names and addresses, my in-laws names and addresses, my shoe size, bra size, everything that could possibly be needed – I type in. I’m ecstatic. I’ve done it. I jump around a little and practice gratitude. I then pay online. Beep beep. The R1350 goes out of my account in seconds. The computer tells me that if I am not automatically returned to the home page, I must log in again in one hour. I try to beat the system and log in in 10 minutes, but the payment doesn’t show. I teach a yoga class. I log back in, and whoopee, it shows. I can now schedule an appointment, except that none show up. I email the helpline to say that there are no available appointments. In two days time they email back and say there are appointments but maybe I must try another browser. I try again with the same browser. I book for a few weeks time.

Now I need to race around with my checklist. Get a new X-ray and medical certificate. I got these 7 years when I moved here on a study permit. If I had TB now, I would have caught it in South Africa. That doesn’t matter, I mustn’t be sick as a permanent resident no matter where I got sick. Medical aid doesn’t cover this as it’s for DHA – I pop out R500 for the x-ray and R300 for the medical consultation. I feel peeved, but practice acceptance and gratitude that I have the money as someone just paid me for yoga.

Next up, police clearance for South Africa. I got one of these 7 years ago too, but need a new one in case I have been sucked into criminal activities since then. I go to Brixton at 12.45. I have to rush upstairs to pay R98 before the finance office closes for lunch. I come back down with my receipt and get covered in sticky black ink for fingerprinting. I’m sent to wash at the standpipe in the car park. I could meet a few criminals here and get some top tips. I decide not to, and go back in with a smile and smudgy hands. It’s Christmas time. The clearance would normally take 10 days, but I should allow a month because of all the holidays. I don’t have a month before the scheduled appointment, but I decide to trust in the benevolence of the system. I know I’m chancing it.

I’ve done it, I’ve done it. I’ve printed out the appointment letter and the application form. It’s an online system, but needs to be printed on paper. I’ve got the letter from my husband to say that he will look after me. I’ve printed out the bank statement to show that I have money to survive. I don’t have TB. I’ve got the doctor’s letter, which states that I am not an imbecile. I’ve got the letter from myself to say that I will employ myself in my own company and that I am the only person in the country who is qualified to work in the designated role. I sign it myself, on my own letterhead. Can that possibly be ok? I’ve even got the police clearance. I’ve got a great big fat wad of paperwork, to accompany this hi-tech, globally utilised online computer system.

I am given a ticket saying HAG92, then frisked and beamed with a magic wand. I make it through security. Later I find my penknife in my bag. But they didn’t notice. And I didn’t use it despite what came next. Mindfulness is handy sometimes. I see rows and rows of metal sloping seats, cooled by air conditioning. This can’t be too bad, or does it mean I’ll be here for hours and may need to keep my cool. I look at the screen: HAG21. I’ll have turned into an old hag by the time my number comes up. I try to sit on a seat. I slide off with my back in a C-curve.