South African Embassy: A Tale of Torture and Extortion

May 8, 2009

01emailThe difficulties of strict immigration policies meted out by several embassies is nothing new to Nigerian travelers, especially if your passport is very green and bearing the horses-and-eagle coat of arms. But lately, the South African embassy in Lagos – situated at Molade Okoya Thomas in Victoria Island, has taken things way too far. They have not only proved beyond any reasonable measure their deliberate attempt to violate immigration laws in relation to human rights, but have even claimed it is within the jurisdiction of their rights as a representative of a nation to inflict rules which in no way fulfill the services which they promised the citizens of their host nation. Rather, their services are conditioned to degenerate Nigerians to mere savages fighting amongst each other for the sake of the ‘almighty’ South African visa.

The scenario as it stands today at the embassy surpasses all attempts to translate it into words within the confines of writing. But since even the journalists who visit the embassies actually are more caught-up with traveling to South Africa than reporting that horrible experience, we have decided to give it a try.

On a typical work day, the embassy is supposed to resume at 9am. But even before then, the crowd of applicants are already building and converging at the entrance. The door, on most occasions, never opens before 10am. At this time, the two mobile police men must have arrived – rifle in hand. They ask everyone to quietly “respect yourselves” and move further away from the door of the entrance.

As the keys to the door begin to fumble around the key hole from the inside, the pushing begins already. Everyone wants to get in at the same time. It is in this attitude that the officials of the embassy get all their excuses for their despicable modus operandi. They say Nigerians are savages, “Give them an elbow, they will snatch the whole hand!” But the truth is that this embassy has no clue as to how to manage the influx of applicants per day, which is actually a very small number compared to, say the American or British embassy. They are massively understaffed and disorganized. As a result, the frustration is mostly suffered by the applicants.

By the time the door is opened, they beckon those for refund and repatriation deposits and afterward, they begin to call in applicants by categories. Usually, they do not stick to their procedure, so there is no point counting on whatever information you see on the notice board or their websites. By the time they have taken in the first batch, it is likely that a second batch will not be feasible. Those who never made it to the first batch could actually spend all day in the hot sun waiting to no avail. The most demeaning part of it is that no information is given on the next course of action, so everyone is just waiting out of faith without actually knowing what they are waiting for or if they should even be waiting at all.

05emailSo the big question is; in what place or law is it stated that any embassy has the right to keep [besides the able-bodied], pregnant mothers, old fathers, children and the physically challenged waiting for about seven hours in the sun just to be attended to? An applicant readily expressed it in picturesque words; “I was number one on the line after the first batch, from 12 noon until 6pm!” 6pm means he and the others behind him never made it into the embassy because they close at 4pm, and at times 5pm and the only sign of closure is when you see the tinted cars of the Consular driving away. No information. You just have to come back next time. What is the relationship between giving or rejecting a visa, and subjecting numerous people to countless hours of sun drying and unnecessarily strenuous waiting? And if there is never the possibility of all applicants being attended to, why won’t everyone scramble to make that fraction that enters first? Most of them struggling to beat the entrance have already exceeded their endurance peak because they have been to the embassy three or four times without having the opportunity of just submitting their application!

The popular manner of approach from the staff is that of rudeness, from the security personnel at the entrance to the Nigerian accountants responsible for acceptance of payment. They are explicitly saucy to a fault regardless of who is involved. They don’t talk to you; they bark at you. They treat you like you have come to beg, and most times some of them go to the length of trying to explain your constitutional rights to you, telling you how the South African visa is a privilege, therefore you should comport yourself and accept whatever condition dictated by the embassy and their workers. What an ironical misfortune!

Unlike most embassies, there is only one official attending to all the submissions of the day! And that official is one of the three consuls. So by mid-day, this person’s head is already rumbling with too many applications to attend to. The so-called agents [and there many of them] make matters worse: some people submit up to 30 passports in a row, therefore the screening process is always a long and tedious one. But why should there be just one person for such a tedious task? As a result of the mental commotion, this person in charge at some point, hardly looks at the application and with little or no reflection, just awards anything that comes nearest to his reflex: “failed interview”, “pay your visa fee” or “repatriation deposit”.

Talking of repatriation deposit, this is a fee amounting to a hundred and ten thousand naira which the applicant must pay before a visa is issued, and is refundable after the expiration date of the said visa. Based on the temperament of the consular, you might just be asked to pay this money or not, it really does not depend on if you deserve to or not. This money is to make sure you don’t disappear into some South African suburb – you will definitely come back as long as your money is with them. They underestimate Nigerians, as if they have forgotten that money is only a means to an end. But no – they didn’t forget, the money is making more money for them in their bank accounts.

After having paid the visa fee which is a non-refundable N8,600 and a ‘deposit’ of N110,000, you are asked to come back the next ten [10] days for your visa. Already, a ten-day interval for the treatment of visa is quite much compared to other embassies. On the visa day, the visa is not ready. You are not told what that means, no more information – just not ready. You keep coming back and the visa you already paid for is not ready. Some people kept coming for two months, and the visa was still not ready! Their traveling dates and flight tickets have been changed countless times, yet the visa was not ready. The cases vary. Some, when they finally receive the visa, find errors such as wrong dates, misspelt names, etc. In other cases, the visas would have been stamped into the passport a long time ago, but somehow the passport was never given to the owner and he kept coming back and modifying his travel arrangements. Other people have been told “not ready” about 6 consecutive times only to finally return their documents asking for “additional documents”.

So it becomes obvious that this embassy is not in any way concerned about fulfilling the services for which they are paid, instead they cause people more expenses by giving them a date for collection of visa – which will now prompt the applicant to purchase a ticket based on this information – only to be given his visa one month afterward or not given at all. Some people get fed up with the sight of the embassy and the unfriendly inhuman attitude of their staff and decide to withdraw their passport after they must have spent time and money. It is quite painful.

it is instructive to state here that collecting money from applicants and putting them through a series of emotional and financial turmoil and yet failing to render the services for which they are financially rewarded is criminal – grossly illegal. Indeed, this is not any different from the criminal act of swindling or defrauding.

They say Nigerians can withstand anything, can scale any hurdle, but that does not award a free pass to anyone, organization or government to erect unnecessary obstacles, even those that oppose the virtues of human rights. For not all Nigerians are the kind of Nigerians they have in mind while they build their high walls of senseless restrictions. Most Nigerians are good ambassadors not only to this nation, but to the entire black race – wherever they go and whoever they encounter, but ironically, they are the surest victims to these stereotypical notions about Nigeria. For the sake of those upright Nigerians, the South African embassy should set up a just method of evaluation instead of one that depends solely on the emotional whims and mood swings of the evaluating officials.

The South African embassy in Nigeria should update their staff and equipment; they have the resources because every applicant pays a non-refundable visa fee. No one disputes their right to refuse visas to anyone at their own free will, but they should desist from subjecting Nigerian citizens to treatments not even befitting to animal beings.

UPRISING therefore considers it a matter of justice to call critical attention of the Lagos State government towards scrutinising the mode of operation of the South African High Commission in Lagos and ensure that they modify any aspect of their services which makes it impossible for them to offer equitable services – free of all forms of torture – to their Nigerian clients. Otherwise they should consider the possibility of being asked to shut down!

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