As far as anniversaries go, this is an odd one. It’s also another reminder about how much things can change in a relatively short time. It was 12 months ago that I was writing to express my rage about being unable to organise my younger daughter a new passport. Well, perhaps more resignation than rage.
Being in the midst of what Wanted editor Sarah Buitendach described last month as “this quasi-apocalyptic” world can make one reminisce about the strangest things. So, I found myself recalling, rather fondly, those futile visits to home affairs offices in Randburg and Edenvale. The comradeship and solidarity that one got from fellow sufferers struggling to achieve something that should really be simple. In this era of face masks and physical distancing, one misses some of the hitherto unrecognised pleasures of life, such as striking up a conversation with a complete stranger about nothing in particular.
Twelve months later, the passport is still nowhere to be found — at least not at the time of writing. Though I’m not a superstitious being who’s generally bothered by concepts such as fate, I had begun to wonder if maybe this just wasn’t meant to be. On the positive side, it’s not as if she’s missing it, though all kinds of cunning plans and travel itineraries were devised to try to get hold of it.
That included a trip to London and a visit to one of my favourite places — the SA high commission office in Trafalgar Square. It was a bit of a homecoming and reminded me of another strange passport-related experience involving one of my children. I spotted a manager who, eight years previously, had had to intervene when I had gone to register the birth of my older daughter. Since her parents were not officially married at the time, we were told she couldn’t be registered with two surnames (double-barrelled is considered posh in the UK).
In the months that have passed, with cancelled reunions,
the curse of this particular passport hasn’t exactly occupied the mind
We were advised to choose one. Other than the tricky question of which surname, said child — entitled to British citizenship — had already been registered and issued with UK identity documents with both surnames. Having to go through life with passports from different countries showing different surnames didn’t seem a thing with which sensible parents should burden a child — unless they were completely sure she would grow up to be a top-notch spy.
In the end, the manager intervened. Seeing her again in February, I wondered if she’d realised how stressful that situation had been. It was also so old-South Africa in that, as we stood there with the officials muttering among themselves, the (white) senior of the two didn’t even acknowledge our existence.
This time, the process was painless. But then, less than a month later, Covid-19 struck and the world was simply shut. In the months that have passed, with cancelled reunions, the curse of this particular passport hasn’t exactly occupied the mind.
And then out of the blue, there’s an e-mail from the high commission office in London asking for extra documents for the application to be processed. Last month, Sarah wrote about finding bright spots in this dark patch. Still no passport, but who would have guessed that home affairs would be a source of one such bright spot?
• Mnyanda is the editor of Business Day.
• From the August edition of Wanted, 2020.