Thursday, March 20, 2014

Going for a South African Visa

By Okechukwu Nwafor

IT seems Nigerian Visa applicants have become adept at dancing to tunes of disgrace constantly handed over to them by officials of the VFS (South African Visa Applicant Centre) in Abuja. Officials here craft unsavoury song of humiliation determined to compel Nigerian applicants to dance to the tunes even at the risk of slumping from exhaustion. On Monday morning of February 10, 2014, I arrived at the South Africa Visa application centre in Abuja, Nigeria, at 9 a.m. to submit my Visa application and a security man at the gate pushed me back with a wave of hand saying “we have closed for the day.” Astonished, I pointed at the notice board and asked the security man to read the notice which says: “For submission:  8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday-Friday.”  But he instead commanded me, and few others hanging around the doorway, to move further away from the vicinity as strangers like us are not allowed to loiter around the building premises. His menacing gesticulation quickly sent us afar to a place that looks like a car park where I saw many touts lurking to defraud unwary clients. I felt pity for myself for being an object of embarrassment by this security man but also for accepting an apparent script of humiliation, ostensibly intended for just Nigerians. 
            One imagines the South African High Commission posting on her notice board in, say, Washington D.C. that Visa application submission is Monday to Friday from 8am to 3pm and then goes ahead to turn back prospective American applicants who have arrived on Monday at 9am to submit Visa application. Reason: they have closed for the day.  Obviously litigation would have woken them from a reverie, that is, only if they are daydreaming. 
            In Nigeria, the embassy is not under any reverie as this misleading notice has been there in Abuja for months. What is annoying is the impudence of foreign nationals on Nigerian citizens; the taken-for-grantedness of citizens; and this temerity by foreign nationals to consign Nigerian citizens to the waste bin of third-class creatures in their own nation, or elsewhere, seems a tacit acceptance that Nigerian Visa applicants are ignorant.  Or is the action a vengeful recourse to punish the desperate, young Nigerian hustlers seeking to escape to South Africa? 
            I decided to hang around the embassy until it is 3 p.m. Other applicants came and the security man told them, “we have closed for the day”. Perplexed at the naked effrontery with which the security man flouted the notice of 3 p.m. closing time, these applicants accepted their fate, believing that perhaps the Nigerian factor will play out and an inducement would magically open the door, just in the manner a remote-control would open a door. But it was not so. We all waited until 3 p.m. It then means that laws are only meant to be flouted with rudeness and disrespect in Nigeria, that is, if we assume that the embassy is situated on a Nigerian land and manned by Nigerian staff, as directed by South African authorities.  If a foreign embassy in Nigeria could not exercise common civility to keep a law it instituted and brazenly displays on its notice boards, one must worry that other laws written on papers and hidden beneath the grasp of ‘non-literate’ locals would receive more cruel violation. One worries what happens when locals even flout such laws.
            While some Nigerians may wish to travel to South Africa to commit crimes or break the laws of the land, many are travelling to South Africa to share with colleagues in professional knowledge, to engage colleagues in symbiotic professional collaboration and sometimes to impart superior knowledge to less endowed South Africans in certain sectors Nigerians may be adept. This is same for South Africans travelling to Nigeria. Life is a constant adventure in possibilities and no single race, individual, ethnicity, nationality is exempt from the dire stakes life has to offer.  But when a certain nation exhibits unequal and insensate show of power and superiority with their Visa, it becomes unfortunate. To prove this unequal show of power relations, and to prove that a superior power has the right to flout a law, and even defecate on top of your head, while the embassy happily flouts their own laws on the notice board, a certain Nigerian young man who answered call inside the embassy was harshly dealt with. He was rudely handed over to a security agent who sent him out of ‘Heaven’s gate,’ for the embassy gate ranks as ‘Heaven’s gate’. This young man was asked by the security man whether he did not see the notice that read: “Please switch off your phones”. This is akin to the manner in which I asked the security man at the gate: “Can’t you see the notice of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday?” and still he kept telling me that they have closed for the day, at 9 a.m.! 
          It is possible to argue that going for South African Visa in Nigeria is similar to a cow passing through the eye of a needle. Indeed, the processes are rigorous, breathtaking, humiliating, embarrassing and a seemingly impossible mission. As one young Igbo hustler whom I met at the embassy put it: “It seems more difficult than the processes of going to Heaven.” It sounds hilarious but after passing through the humiliating and embarrassing process, I tend to believe this young man that going for the South African Visa in Nigeria seems like an impossible mission.
           By the time I finished submitting my Visa application documents in Abuja on February 11, 2014, I felt exhausted, drained of any last energy. My eyes sunk deep and a vein shot through my forehead. Obviously, the Visa stress has added an awful wrinkle of age to my physical looks. I felt older in this embarrassing world of Visa application.  I also felt like one who has been relieved of some strange overload. I quickly dashed into a cool cuisine along the street and treated myself to a can of refreshing Ribenna and meat pie. Shortly, afterwards, I felt resuscitated. It then means that South African Visa process is suffocating.
             For me, I will go to South Africa again, but before then, the High Commissioner must have offered me a Permanent Residency Permit so I can avert another menacing brush with their security men who are trained to relish in the embarrassing statement: “We have closed for the day,” at 9a.m. even when the notice read 3 p.m. as closing time. 


•Dr. Nwafor is an AHP Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape, South Africa and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.

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