DHA on strategies to resolve long queues at Home Affairs offices; with Deputy Minister

Home Affairs

26 November 2019
Chairperson: Adv B Bongo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) briefed the Committee on its strategies to resolve long queues at its offices. After the Department had been inundated with calls from frustrated members of the public last year, the Minister had directed it to conduct an assessment in order to develop intervention strategies that would deal with the challenge of long queues and improve service delivery. The “War on Queues” campaign had been launched as part of the Department’s operations performance plan.

The DHA had defined the problem of long queues as follows:

  • Long enduring queues emanating from high client volumes, caused by unpredictable walk-ins;
  • Discontinuation of Saturday hours;
  • Inadequate front office space;
  • Unstable systems (networks and applications); inefficient work flow processes; and
  • Uncoordinated communication strategies that led to unsatisfied clients.

These factors were exacerbated by problems such as the inability to implement an appointment system process; the lack of floor management, resulting in inefficient control of queues; concurrent running of manual and automated systems; the distribution of offices not based on demographics; misinformation by social media on the discontinuation of green bar-coded IDs; and poor signage in offices.

The DHA’s interventions for addressing these challenges included a ticketing system to improve queue controls; negotiating with labour unions to reopen offices on Saturdays; increased training of front office staff, and purpose-built offices; improved information technology (IT) systems; enhanced workflow processes; coordinated communications strategies; and greater collaboration with banks for the issuance of Smart identity document (ID) cards. It stressed that these initiatives were being hampered by budget cuts.

Members agreed that these intervention strategies would yield no good results in the face of the budget cuts. They were of the view that the Committee had to engage the National Treasury on the issue of DHA funding. Some Members bemoaned the fact that refugees and asylum seekers were adding to the pressures on the DHA, and were abusing the system to the detriment of South African taxpayers.

The Committee resolved that it would engage with the National Treasury on the question of budget; that the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) should report back on its commitment to resolve the DHA’s network challenges; that services should be taken to the people in rural areas; and that the Department should indicate how it would resolve the issue of middlemen assisting people to skip long queues. 

Meeting report

Chairperson’s corruption charge
The Chairperson opened the meeting by briefing the media on his charge of corruption. He acknowledged that he had been summoned by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and that he was cooperating. He said that he was ready to go to the court and prove his innocence.

Mr J McGluwa (DA) remarked that the DA had initially objected to Adv Bongo’s election as Chairperson. Taking into consideration what had happened, it was of the view that he did not deserve to be chairing the Committee. The DA had taken note of his comments, and wished him well. What the DA wanted was simply to know the truth.

Mr M Chabane (ANC) said that the note was taken on how the matter of prosecution had developed. He stressed that the Chairperson was constitutionally innocent until proven guilty and that prior to proving otherwise, Members should have confidence in his leadership. Members should be confident in the rule of law. The matter would be directed to the office of ANC to take this matter into consideration.

Department of Home Affairs: Dealing with long queue challenges

Mr Nzuza Njabulo, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, said that the DHA had been invited to brief the Committee on intervention strategies to resolve long queues at the Civic Services Offices and the Refugee Reception Offices (RROs). The brief presentation was very detailed and spoke about the management of immigration, including refugees and asylum-seekers. The DHA had made the “War on Queues” campaign a priority.

Among intervention strategies was to open new facilities. In the last two months, two new offices were opened. The DHA was hopeful that the opening of these two new facilities would help in dealing with the backlogs, resulting in effective issuance of birth and death certificates. There were offices that were open in Cape Town, which the DHA hoped that would assist in reducing the queues. Some officials – especially young employees – could come together and open offices on Saturday on a free and voluntary basis.

Mr Thulani Mavuso, Director-General: DHA, said that in January 2018, there had been unprecedented long queues at the DHA, which had led to it being inundated with calls from frustrated and devastated members of the public on the time spent in some of its offices across the country. These calls had necessitated the Minister to pay special attention and take a decision to visit offices unannounced, to observe at a personal level and establish the nature of the situation in these offices.

The Minister had identified five offices for immediate intervention -- Alexandra and Soweto in Gauteng, Pietermaritzburg and Umgeni in Kwazulu-Natal. and East London in the Eastern Cape -- with a vision to establish an effective model which would serve as a benchmark to roll out to other offices. On 10 April 2018, the Minister had directed the DHA to conduct an assessment in order to develop intervention strategies that would deal with the challenges of long queues and improve service delivery. Thereafter, the Minister had launched the “War on Queues” campaign, which formed part of Departmental annual operations performance plan.

The DHA had five RROs which processed asylum-seekers, and in the past had experienced huge volumes of clients leading to long queues. These RROs were in Desmond Tutu, Musina, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban. Apart from the Desmond Tutu and Musina offices, the DHA was functioning to reduce capacity, which had directly impacted on the ability of the Offices to attend to clients reporting for services. The nature of the services in the asylum regime was diverse, with the longest client interaction being for processing (registering, interviewing and adjudicating) a newcomer, which required an estimated one and half hours. The shortest interaction was for extensions of section 22 permits, at an estimated five minutes.

Mr Mavuso said that between January and September 2019, the RROs had registered 18 924 newcomers, interviewed 16 493 asylum-seekers and the adjudication of their cases thereof, extended 386 909 section 22 permits, extended 22 093 refugee status permits (or section 24 permits), received 6 125 applications for refugee identity documents (IDs), issued 5 999 refugee IDs, received 5 047 applications for travel documents, and issued 5 703 travel documents.

Mr Mavuso defined the problem of long queues as follows:


  • Long enduring queues emanating from high client volumes, caused by unpredictable walk-ins;
  • Discontinuation of Saturday hours;
  • Inadequate front office space;
  • Unstable systems (networks and applications); inefficient work flow processes; and
  • Uncoordinated communication strategies that led to unsatisfied clients.


These factors which contributed to negative publicity, denting image of the DHA, were exacerbated further by problems such as:


  • The inability to implement an appointment system process;
  • Lack of floor management, resulting in inefficient control of queues;
  • Concurrent running of manual and automated systems;
  • Distribution of offices not based on demographics;
  • Misinformation by social media on the discontinuation of green barcoded IDs; and
  • Poor signage in offices.


With regard to asylum seeker management, refugees and asylum-seekers normally arrived at the offices early in the morning in large numbers with entire families. The premises from which the Cape Town RRO was operating, were not suitable for serving large numbers of clients, resulting in overcrowding and spilling over into the street. The inefficient layout at the Durban and Cape Town RROs hampered the workflow process. The identified factors that exacerbated the problem of managing the asylum system included the lack of interpretation services, the lack of floor marshals that resulted in inefficient control of queues, a shortage of staff, slow network speed, and the unequal distribution of clients to offices.

Mr Mavuso submitted to the Committee intervention strategies aimed at resolving these problems.  Each identified problem had its own intervention strategies.

Unpredicted walk-ins:

The DHA would develop a system to issue tickets for overflow clients, create specific counters for clients who applied on eHome Affairs, and develop a Smart Phone app for re-issuance of passports and Smart ID cards.

Discontinuation of Saturday working hours:

The DHA would resume negotiations at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) with unions.

Inadequate leadership and front office space:

The DHA would conduct continuous training on operations management, service quality management and client relations; create a support system for managers through, amongst others, social media (WhatsApp group and video conferencing); and design purpose-built offices for Home Affairs.

Unstable systems (networks and applications):

The DHA would develop new network architecture to address unstable systems.

Inefficient workflow process:

The DHA would segregate counters for non-paying clients; conduct an assessment for relaxation of the requirements for collection; and introduce self-service kiosks for collections.

Uncoordinated communication strategies:

The DHA would announce the “War on Queues” campaign through media (radio and print), and develop a “heatmap” on its website to show offices that had long queues or short queues.

Public Private Partnership with banks:

The DHA would increase its footprint, thereby giving clients more options beyond 193 live capture offices; address capacity issues, since it was unable to fill vacancies due to budget cuts; and accelerate the replacement of green ID books with smart ID cards.

Mr Mavuso provided the Committee with an update on the progress of implementing the intervention strategies. In his conclusion, he recommended that the Committee note the intervention strategies and progress made to resolve the long queues at civic service offices and the RROs.


The Deputy Minister excused himself in order to attend another meeting, and commented that the presentation had elaborated on the Home Affairs strategy to resolve the issue of long queues. He welcomed inputs from Members on what the DHA could do to solve the problem.

Mr M Lekota (COPE) said that a decision of the Cabinet was required to solve the problem. He asked how South Africa could have interpreters for all the languages in the world. Refugees were coming from different parts of the world. He felt that Parliament had created legislation that caused problems. Where was a budget to recruit all these interpreters? If recruited, unions would be involved. South Africa welcomed these people into its communities, and as a result they were benefiting from services that the country was supposed to offer to only its citizens. Consequently, there was a war at community level, which was being referred to as xenophobic violence. For example, clinics and hospitals had been developed for citizens. When budgeting for service delivery, the government took into consideration its citizens, and not citizens of other countries. Foreign nationals were giving birth, and their children were given birth certificates.

In order to solve these problems, refugees should be in the hands of United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The UNHCR should find shelters for them. Why should countries send their problems to South Africa? South Africa could not be a host to the problems of other countries. Other countries were not accepting responsibility for taking these problems in. The United States (US) had indicated that it would build a wall at the border with Mexico to prevent people from gaining access to their country. European countries were closing their borders too. The Cabinet should sit and listen to these problems, and decide whether they agreed with taking in all the problems of the world.

Mr A Roos (DA) said that the DHA needed enough resources to resolve these problems. He welcomed the monitoring tools at Home Affairs offices. On inadequate resources, he referred to the Centurion Office. He said that he had gone there and found that there were seven staff members serving the clients. There was one cashier and 4 security guards. How could these people provide the service required by clients? There was a problem of human resources. He remarked that asylum-seekers’ permits were valid for three months. Some of them were valid for six months. He sought clarity on why these permits were not extending for six months to avoid the congestion. He also asked why asylum-seekers’ permits could not be extended in the Cape Town RRO. He welcomed the proposal to utilise technological advances such as an online appointment system that would ensure that clients arrived at the DHA when they were expected. On the booking/appointment system, he said that the bookings would affect the poor, as they would not be able to make bookings online. He commented that some offices had no parking area, and this made it difficult to have access to these offices.
Mr J McGluwa (DA) extended the call that the opposition party should be part of the leadership of the Committee. He commented that the issue was not the long queues, but the safety of the people. Spending much time in a queue was not safe for the people. Their safety was of concern. People were not being served at civic service centres, and it was worse at RROs. Long lines were unbearable. It was evident that the country could not afford to serve refugees and asylum-seekers. These issues had to be addressed, but how could they be addressed if the DHA was facing a 5% cut annually? Referring on Saturday hours, he remarked that people were taking off days so as to work on Saturdays. Another problem was that there were no security officers, if and when offices were opened during the weekends. Clients should be advised about which offices were opening, or could open, on Saturdays.

He commented that the Committee had been presented with qualitative and quantitative research, but with no details on where the research had taken place, which approaches were used, who were interviewed and the demographics. There was a need for data as evidence to help the Committee to come to a conclusion. DHA should be send back and come with a report that contained data so that members could analyse the report. The war on queues was impossible if there was no adequate budget. There was no money, no staff members and no managers. The DHA was fighting a losing battle. The last time he visited the DHA there had been a long queue because of inadequate staff members.

Ms T Khanyile (DA) said that all people should be respected equally. Some staff members were very rude. When she visited the DHA office, she was given service in a decent manner simply because staff members came to learn that she was a Member of Parliament. When the Committee visited the Desmond Tutu RRO, she had asked an asylum-seeker why he was in the country, and he had responded it was because his father had four wives and there were a lot of problems at home. Did this situation qualify someone as an asylum-seeker? She asked how people could make an appointment.

Ms T Legwase (ANC) responded to Mr Lekota, and said that Members had the responsibility to create laws and policies, and stressed that resolving problems could not be done through talking, but through action. Problems were alluded to at each and every meeting of the Committee. What was being done to resolve them?

Ms L Tito (EFF) supported Mr Lekota on his proposal to refer the brief presentations to Cabinet. In addition, Members of the Cabinet should conduct an oversight visit to see things for themselves. The DHA could not resolve the matter with the current budget constraints.

Mr D Moela (ANC) supported Mr McGluwa’s comments on the inadequate staff members. Members should accept that the DHA was a critical department. He reminded them that the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) contributed to queue problem. The SITA had promised to resolve the network problem. There was also the problem of queue management which needed to be addressed. Previously, there had been a program to go to vulnerable and needy people -- what had happened to this programme? The DHA should go to school to assist learners and students at their schools.

He also seconded Mr Lekota on his comments that the Cabinet should be briefed on the question of long queues, and said that labour unions should be engaged on how the issue should be resolved. There was a need for a reengagement with labour unions to resolve the impasse on the opening of the Home Affairs offices on Saturdays, which would alleviate weekday pressures on the offices. A collaborative effort between the unions and DHA was necessary to ensure the DHA’s effectiveness.

He also commented that it was very sad that people had to walk a long distance to be able to access Home Affairs’ offices. People could not survive if they could not access civic services offices. He felt that the roll-out of mobile trucks to rural areas with vulnerable people should be prioritised. He concluded that the question of budget should be addressed.

Mr M Chabane (ANC) called on Mr Lekota not give up, but to give the DHA a chance to reorganise and make its contribution. All Members should assist the DHA. Regarding the first quarter report, most challenges emanated from the inadequate budget, and National Treasury and the Portfolio Committee on Finance should be engaged on the matter. Other institutions that might have a say on finances should be also engaged with, and the key issues should be highlighted.

The DHA could not deliver without spending. It could not deliver with power cuts or without networks. The rural areas and disadvantaged areas should its priority. People who were unemployed could not be sent back home because there were no networks. There were problems of long queues in Pietermaritzburg. People were queuing for a whole day and returning without being serviced. There were middle men who assisted people to skip queues. The DHA facilities should be extended to certain vulnerable areas. Mobile offices should be utilised.

There were issues of corruption that needed to be addressed. He concurred with Ms Khanyile on the rudeness of staff members, and stressed that the DHA should improve on its customer relations, especially, the attitude of its staff towards clients. People should not be assisted on the basis of their status in society. He reminded Mr Lekota that South Africa was a signatory to the refugee convention, so refugees could not be turned away at the border. It has been noted that asylum-seekers came to South Africa because South Africa was not bad compared to other countries. Rather, there should be effective border management.

Mr Lekota reminded Members that it was they who voted for the budget of the DHA. The budget allocations were based on the income of the country. The DHA was not given money to look after people who came from other countries. He asserted that the government had made a wrong decision when it accepted people could come into South Africa and solve their problems while in the country. The government had created a problem. People were denied access to Europe. Borders were controlled between Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire simply because they did not want Nigerians to cross the border. During the Rwandan genocide, Rwandan refugees were returned. It did not sound right to have all nations seeking asylum in South Africa. These people were not paying taxes and were benefiting from service delivery. Taxes were paid by citizens. South Africa paid for membership to the United Nations and African Union, and was contributing money every year that would solve problems such as these. Which other country accepted people coming into the country and solving their problems whilst in the country? South Africa had taken the route of accepting all the problems of the world. The fact was that the DHA should deal with the issues of citizens. The Cabinet ought to be told that it was adopting laws that were defeating and collapsing the government.

The Chairperson commented that Mr Lekota was becoming emotional, and asked the DG to respond to questions that fell within the discussion framework.

Mr Mavuso said that inefficiency was the main problem. The inefficiency led to corruption. If clients could not get the services they were looking for, they ended up bribing officials. The Pietermaritzburg office was challenged by inefficiency. Some offices needed renovation, but the renovation was hampered by legislation. The DHA could request money for renovation from the National Treasury, but it could not renovate on its own.  Many problems were created by legislation.

On interpretation services, he responded that in terms of the Constitution and the Human Rights Convention, the government was required not to discriminate against anyone. It was incumbent on the DHA to ensure that every asylum-seeker in the country was assisted in the language that he/she understood. Everyone had to be interviewed. It should be made clear that the government did not provide shelters to refugees and asylum-seekers. The majority of asylum-seekers were able to look after themselves because they were allowed to work.

Regarding the budget inadequacy, Mr Mavuso said that the DHA had approached the Cabinet for R18 billion, but it had approved R8 billion. R2 billion had been allocated to the issuance of IDs. In this regard, the DHA would need R6 billion. There were citizens who were not paying for services simply because they were vulnerable. In addition, the production of a passport was R520, and was issued at R400 only because it was subsidised. Huge amounts of money were allocated to the compensation of employees. A request had been made that some income should be used to fund the DHA’s services.

On the question of validity of asylum-seeker permits, Mr Mavuso responded that the validity of section 22 permits was extended for six months, and not three months. He did not know where the issue of three months was coming from.

In order to expand its facilities, the DHA in Cape Town had found a facility in Bellville. The facility had to be refurbished, and the owner wanted to sell the building. This had affected the Department’s operations. It had recommended that facilities should belong to the state and should be permanent. The DHA could not continue to rely on third parties’ facilities.

He agreed that the booking system would not assist the poor who did not have access to internet. However, services could be expanded to be accessed through banks and the DHA app.

Mr Mavuso said that 100 mobile offices had been reconnected and would be deployed in the remote areas. The DHA would ensure that services were taken to the people.

On the issuance of documents, he said that citizens who were abroad were suffering the most owing to inefficiency. At the domestic level, a problem was that courier vehicles were being hijacked. Another problem was fraud. A system would be launched to fight against fraudulent documents. In the past, the DHA could send SMSs, but this system had been hijacked by criminals who did phishing.

The DHA was still behind with the issuance of IDs and passports because there was no automated process to check the progress.

Mr Mavuso said Saturday operations could not be re-launched by the DHA. It was difficult to run a Department for overtime operations. In the past, it contracted employees to work during weekends.

Regarding qualitative and quantitative research, he said that he was not reporting on the research project. However, information needed by Members could be shared.

On the equal treatment of clients, he said that people were treated equally by staff members, and that Department’s public relations would be improved. 

Asylum-seekers who came to South Africa owing to family matters were not qualified as a asylum-seekers, but as persons who were abusing the system.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would engage with the National Treasury on the question of budget; that the SITA should report back on its commitment to resolve the network challenges; that services should be taken to people in rural areas; and that the DHA should state how it would resolve the issue of middlemen assisting people to skip long queues.  The commitment of the DHA to deal with this matter was appreciated. The Committee would be able to gauge the impact with time. What the Committee was interested in was to see the queues decreasing and clients receiving quality services. He also called for the extension of the DHA’s footprint in banking institutions, to lighten the load on Home Affairs offices.

Consideration and adoption of minutes

The minutes of 8, 15, 22 and 29 October, and 5 and 12 November, were considered and adopted.

The meeting was adjourned.

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