Since I arrived in South Africa in 2005 I’ve found that doing any dealings with banks, western union, letting agents, Insurance companies, furniture shops, post offices, security guards at most Johannesburg residential complexes and DHL (by DHL I mean all shipping companies) always leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth.
It amazes me how all these groups of people seem to want different documents from me to verify my identity every time I need to make use of their services. In a normal world it is usually enough to provide some form of valid ID and proof of address when dealing with most companies in the service industry. However in South Africa, particularly if you are human being of the foreign variety, sometimes these requirements morph into an exercise that seems akin to trying to get a visa to visit the planet Krypton (No it does not exist).
For example, I tried sending money through Western Union. I had my passport and proof of residence with me simple enough right? Wrong! I was told that since I am not South African I would need to provide my passport, my valid work permit, proof of address, a 3 month bank statement, a recent pay slip not older than 3 months and a letter confirming my employment.
After a return journey home to fetch all these documents, a quick call to our bemused HR lady to email me the employment stuff and a quick turn to the print shop I found that the lady who had served me earlier had left and there was a new lady at the counter. She proceeded to give me forms that I duly filled in. She made copies of my passport, my permit, my proof of residence, my bank statement, handed me back my pay slip and confirmation of employment letter saying I wouldn’t need them and processed my transaction.
The next time I went to Western Union you can guess like any logical human being I took with me the documents that had been needed the last time only to be told again that I still needed my pay slip and a confirmation of employment letter. The only difference was that this time these documents were actually copied.
On a separate occasion I tried to visit a friend living in one of the flats in the Johannesburg CBD. All these flats require that you sign in at the entrance (most of which are manned by security guards) using some form of ID. Upon signing in I was about to enter when I was told by the security guard that I could not enter the flat because he had noticed that my work permit had expired. When I explained that my passport was valid and I was awaiting the outcome of my new application for a work permit (this is not to say that I understood why I needed a work permit to visit a friend) his response was that sadly he could not let me in because after all rules were rules. It seems even for a mere visit to a friend I needed a valid work permit.
Then there was the time I tried to register an online profile with Edgars (a clothing store) so that I could manage my account with them (I have learnt that using the internet often means I do not have to deal with people and this is usually an advantage because the computer has no idea that I am not South African. Or does it? Anyway that’s another story). I got to the part where you enter your ID number and I entered my passport number only for ‘the system’ (a word I hear a lot round these parts) to reject my registration saying I needed to enter an ID number that was 13 digits long (the format for all South African ID numbers). In my anger and disappointment at this obvious example of discrimination I did what any self-respecting person would do … I wrote a letter to them. Not counting the automated response that came seconds after I sent the letter, I have not heard back from them.
I have had many experiences like this and as a result have resorted to moving around with everything. So the next time you are rummaging through my bag (maybe that would also be a requirement for some service I need from you) do not be surprised if you find my passport, work permit, 3 month bank statement, proof of address, letter of employment, pay slip, my employment contract, police clearance certificate, signed medical certificate proving that I am fit and healthy attached to radiological reports, marriage licence, University transcripts, degree certificates, my 1st place ribbon from the egg and spoon race I won back in crèche and my Pokémon cards in case the requirements at a bank state that I need to battle and defeat another Pokémon before I can be given a line of credit.
Are you a foreigner? What is your experience of South Africa?