Where else in the world does a trip to a government office set off a chain of Facebook posts requesting which office is the best to visit, or what’s the quickest way to get something relatively mundane done? And by quickest here, we’re talking just a few months, instead of many, many months. Where else do you find entire businesses set up to go and stand in a queue for you? Or grease a few palms to get a document that should be easily ordered online?
Well, a couple of weeks ago, I inadvertently discovered that according to the Department of Home Affairs at least, I was still married. This despite getting a rather expensive divorce some ten years ago. Unfortunately, this required a trip to the Department of Home Affairs to get them to change it. Since my friend, who also divorced some years ago, discovered she was still married too, we decided to join forces to make the trip at least bearable.
The requisite posts on Facebook, that font of all knowledge, advised that we should go directly to the ‘Head Office’ in Pretoria. So, setting off from Joburg after the morning traffic, we headed north. Arriving there, we demanded that Google find us a parking spot, which it duly did.
A parking spot in this instance is a bit of disused ground with a chainlink fence around it. Fortunately, this was managed by two very friendly ladies who fell in love with my friend’s car… a rather fetching John Works green and red Mini Cooper. Leaving the car in the hands of the two now much in love ladies, we headed to the ‘Head Office’ which was a mere kilometre away.
As it happens, the ‘Head Office’ doesn’t’ conduct such mundane affairs as a change of marital status, which required us to walk all the way back and around the corner to the regional office.
Anyway, after a two-minute wait, we were ushered into an office where we advised the lady that we were, much to our amazement, still married. She then, with not even a glimmer of a smile or hint of friendliness, held out her hand into which we deposited the certified copies of the divorce agreement.
She then scribbled ‘Change to Divorced’ on the top and dismissed us by turning around to get on with something else.
“Um,” I started, “do we get a reference number, or a receipt perhaps?”
“No,” she answered and pointed to the door. Such is the nature of government employees in South Africa.
Well, we decided to leave our fate in the hands of the Gods and left the office as directed. Now, it seemed that the Gods had not finished with us yet as, on arrival back at the parking spot now some two hours later (it was a long hot walk around Pretoria CBD), the ladies advised us that the car had been ‘making a noise’.
“Oh, you mean the alarm went off?”
“No,” she said, “an engine noise.”
Looking at her quizzically, we walked to the front of the car, which indeed was making an engine noise. In fact, the engine was still running and it seems it had been for the entire duration of our walk around Pretoria.
There are three morals to this story.
- The first is, do not visit government offices in South Africa with any expectation of being assisted with friendliness or that your request will follow any form of process. Hence taking months for any outcome, or worse, another visit to repeat the entire thing.
- The second is do not assume that if you walk away from a locked Mini, with the key in your hand, the engine will cut out. It won’t, it will keep idling until either you return or some gleeful car thief rides off in it.
And finally, if you get divorced in South Africa, please tell the DHA as they don’t talk to the divorce courts… or vice versa.