Tag Archives: Foreigner

Why passports are a disadvantage in South Africa

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?

Lost In Abroad (Part 1)

As an African living abroad, what are you doing about Africa’s problems?

Have you ever been asked this question?  I was recently, and here is my answer.  As with most things in life, I think money is part of the solution.

The most important thing is for me to position myself financially so that I can go there myself and get involved. Many Africans move abroad, but don’t ever go back for more than a few weeks’ vacation.  It seems we become too comfortable with life in the west, and stop feeling homesick.

My Life As A Foreigner.

I grew up watching my family move every few years due to physical safety and to earn more money.  My childhood was spent in Zimbabwe, where I was a foreigner.  We were not citizens, could be sent home at any time, and had limits imposed on how much of our money we could take out of the country.  As a result we felt very unstable, and even though it was the first time my family lived in one city for almost a decade, we were not settled.  We never owned a house there.  We had a very old car that didn’t fit all of us.  Once the Zimbabwean economy began to falter, we had to move on.

When we got to the U.S.A., it was even worse.  We struggled financially because our parents’ credentials were not as marketable.  My mother started a new career that stressed her out, and helped us survive life at a little above U.S. poverty level.  My father was far too experienced in his field outside the U.S. and took jobs that were beneath him, just to keep us moving forward.  My parents were waiting for me to grow up, because once I headed towards my first job out of college they moved back to Nigeria.

My father returned to Nigeria to accept a full-time teaching position with a title and pay that he deserved.  Often when we talk, he tells me that there is a strike or some other interruption of school – but we both know he still takes care of his students.  He tells me that only 27% of people my age have jobs…that I am better off here with student loans.  However, he has no doubt that Nigeria is where he should be.  He can have far more impact there than in the U.S., and considering that he has been traveling out of Nigeria since 1977, it’s good for him to finally go back home.  Recently, he sent me a copy of a book he wrote about the history of Catholicism in my hometown.  I’m told he spent a lot of his own time and money researching the topic.

Returning Home Not The Norm.

Some of my parents’ generation are moving back home, but it is still not common. I wonder why that is – and money always pops up.  I know that most Africans abroad did not ever intend to make a new home in the western world. As mentioned in the film “Lost In Abroad”, we typically left with the intention of someday going back.  Some left to get an education, while others sought wealth – but few ever intended to spend the rest of their lives in  countries where most people don’t look or sound like them.

Today however, there are Africans that cannot or will not ever go home for more than the two weeks of vacation they get each year.  This is unfortunate because I think we who have seen other parts of the world can help things get better back home.  We don’t even need to move back and live in Africa, but we have to be able to go there for many months or years at a time. This is happening with the Chinese, and Indians – and their economies are responding positively.

I think in the long term, we need to create a class of people that move more frequently between the the two worlds. Although this is not easy, it is not particularly difficult if we set our minds to it.  We can’t continue to claim citizenship in places where we spend less than 1% of our lives, can we?

[Look out for the second part of this article.  Coming soon.]

Albert Okagbue is a world travelled and globally educated Certified Public Accountant from Houston, Texas. He is a guest blogger on norushinafrica but mostly writes about finance related issues on http://okagbuecpa.com/