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Candid Comment

Getting new passport no stroll in the park

By Joram Nyathi

LAST week I submitted my passport application form. My passport expired in 2003. Since then I have been trying to get a new one. It is a taxing process even for

the most patient. I am not. I will tell you all about it once the process is over, that is, when I receive the new passport from Tobaiwa Mudede’s office.

When my passport expired I tried in vain to get forms from Makombe Building along Leopold Takawira. There was always a huge crowd. Later the distribution system was decentralised. People could get forms from their district offices.

This sounded fine until I tried. I went to the office at Kuwadzana one afternoon. I was informed they issue only 60 forms per day in the mornings.

Twice in 2004 I got to the offices at 4am. This wasn’t good enough. Multitudes were already in animated conversation around bonfires. There were all the tell-tale signs that they had slept there. I gave up.

Later a relative offered to help. He knew a friend or two who could facilitate the acquisition of the precious piece of paper — — the application form that is. That was around November last year. It was not until March this year that he obtained the forms. I duly filled them in using the mandatory black ink.

I had every reason to be excited. I had no idea of what lay ahead. That was just the beginning. Submitting the form is itself a test of patience and a taste of bureaucratic impudence.

Queues form early near the entrance to the Passport Office along Mbuya Nehanda Street. You have to check which one you are joining. There is a queue for those who want to collect passports, another for those who want to submit application forms, yet a third for those who, like me, want to be given a date on which to submit their forms.

We stood huddled in the queue from 6am before two brusque bureaucrats appeared at 8:15 to bark orders at us. Had we known, we should not have bothered queuing. We were ordered back near the fence. The selection of who went in first was absolutely random. The two young men picked any five faces at a time, on a whim. These were lined up to have their details taken down and given a date on which to submit their forms. By the time good luck came my way I was number 213 and the queue was snaking close to Herbert Chitepo Avenue.

When I produced my driver’s licence in lieu of a chitupa I was sternly warned by the young lady taking down my details to “bring your national ID next time” after I tried to point out that my ID number was there on the driver’s licence. That was in May.

I was given August 17 as the submission date.

When I got there at 8:30 on the appointed day the first batch of forms had been collected. That meant a long wait in the brown dust. In between shuffling about foolishly, we were gulping plumes of dust like the snake cursed out of the Garden of Eden.

About 10:20 an affable man came to collect the forms. That is when time forgot us. When he returned to call our names to go to Room 87 for fingerprints we all wore a thin layer of brown dust while we chewed maputi like goats in the sun. It was around 12 noon.

The lady who served me looked fairly charming were it not for the noise. She kept calling at “Jamela” about who was going out first, presumably to get something to eat. Her noise bore through my head to reach Jamela who was serving another client at the other end of the room.

She asked why I hadn’t trimmed my photos to the required size. I mumbled something about being told that they do it themselves as I scrambled to look for whatever sharp instrument I could find to perform the surgery. That was a grave error.

“Do you want to submit your forms or to cut your photos?” she snapped at me as if we had been engaged in an angry mental contest the whole day. I recoiled into the hard chair to await the termagant’s further wish.

After my fingerprints were taken she threw a model photo size at me and luckily a Samaritan woman nearby handed me a razor blade. I did the best job possible, with the aid of my ID.

She stuck the photos in the appropriate slots on the form and handed me a black felt pen for the mandatory two signatures. I was then ordered to go to Room 3. The process had taken about five minutes but I was more than happy to be out.

At Room 3 I paid $500 000. I was told to go to Room 4. I eavesdropped from the queue that it was “the usual terrible lot” on duty. A lady sitting behind a corner table beckoned me in where I ignorantly surrendered everything I had in my hands. She fumed at seeing the payment receipt which “should be kept in your pocket”.

I withdrew the offending paper as the executioner thumbed through the form. “Is your marriage registered?” she glared at me. “No.”

She quietly placed the form in a pile and waved in the next person, a double signal that she was done with me. It was through the lady serving another client near me that I presumed I should “check after six months” too. I couldn’t dare provoke her further by asking. I slunk out, happy to be free and done with.

I must nevertheless commend the department for its grim, humourless German efficiency once one gets past the first entrance into the catacomb of offices. The human traffic is always thick but the whole process didn’t take me more than 25 minutes. Apparently it’s the getting to the door that is a nightmare.

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