As Kafkaesque experiences go, mine was far from being the worst. But that didn’t make it any less bizarre or bewildering. My writing about it in the past tense might give you the impression it was resolved. Perhaps it will have been by the time of publication.
Fans of Little Britain, the sketch comedy starring David Walliams, and Matt Lucas — the “only gay in the village” and in real-life a fellow Arsenal fan (this is relevant to the story) — will be familiar with the term “Computer says no”.
So it turned out that my interaction with the Home Affairs department’s computer-booking system was half Kafka, half Little Britain. There probably isn’t anything more frustrating than being defeated by unyielding bureaucracy, especially when there is no other human involved to vent at, which then leads to irrational behaviour on one’s part.
I used to think my children were extremely lucky to have two nationalities, and always thought it important to ensure they have a connection with this country though it’s not technically theirs. One way of doing that was to ensure they have SA passports so they don’t enter the country with a “foreign passport”. This was so they’ll always be in the “African” queue at OR Tambo International Airport.
It promised to be easy to renew my younger daughter’s SA passport. The process doesn’t look daunting. You visit the Home Affairs website, fill in the forms, pay a fee and set up an appointment to do the rest at your bank if it participates in the scheme. Luckily, mine does.
There probably isn’t anything more frustrating than being defeated by unyielding bureaucracy, especially when there is no other human involved to vent at
Unfortunately I only got as far as the second part because when I hit the “submit to Home Affairs” button, I was confronted with a message saying, “place of birth doesn’t match our records”.
How could this be? The same place, Edinburgh, is reflected in both her birth certificate and passport. The form does have about four options for the UK, so I tried them all. Is she a citizen? A subject?
The truly Kafkaesque moment occurs when you find yourself reacting in a way that you know is illogical. So I tried the other boxes, though I know she wasn’t born in a UK overseas territory. I should know where she was born because I was there on that April Sunday afternoon.
I even remember that Arsenal played against Hull that Sunday. Those were the days before the club reached its current depths and there was something riding on the game — a slot in the European Champions League.
And yet, in desperation, I told the Home Affairs website she was born in SA. Didn’t work. I like the idea of my children being “citizens of everywhere”, comfortable with diverse places and cultures. But for the Home Affairs computer system, they are — one of them anyway — as the now former British Prime Minister Theresa May put it, “citizens of nowhere”.
• Mnyanda is the editor of Business Day.
• From the August edition of Wanted 2019.