I have just spent most of the morning in long queues at the consular section of the High Commission of South Africa in London – my sister is due to spend 8 months working on charity projects there from 4th January onwards. Now, it might not be as nasty there as at Robben Island (pictured), but the consular section is really, really downright horrid.
First of all, they refuse to answer any queries put to them by phone. That’s the reason I was sent there in person to help out my sister. The phones ring and ring in the background and are never answered. What are you supposed to do if you don’t live in London? They don’t open enough desks, so the queues are enormous. And perhaps worst of all, the criteria that they impose on people to get visas are utterly ludicrous. A man in front of me in the queue was told that a certificate that showed he was healthy enough to fly a plane was not adequate and that he had to get a certificate from a doctor.
I spent a while chatting with some other people in the line about how they needed proof they did not have tuberculosis in order to get visas to work in South Africa, while South Africans do not need such proof to come and work in the UK. Now, which country has problems with TB? It’s for sure not the UK! Further, all applicants were complaining that the forms available to download from the High Commission’s website were not the correct ones, and people were regularly finding other requirements imposed arbitrarily once individuals turned up with their papers.
Perhaps best of all was a guy from a building company with offices in the UK and South Africa who wanted a visa to go and work in South Africa. At one point he exclaimed to the grumpy person working at the counter “40 days! Why do you need 40 days to get the visa? I could not imagine it could be so complex!” If the firm had branches in any of the other 24 member states of the European Union, no such mess would ever be encountered. Now, not that I would want to jump to conclusions, but he looked like a typical Daily Mail reader to me, and I wonder how often such a person would ever appreciate the benefits of the European Union…
Anyway, in conclusion: the High Commission is an absolutely dreadful place. Inefficient, rude, and utterly chaotic. Stay well away from there if you possibly can!