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Haj Operators under pressure

Following the South African Haj and Umrah Council’s (Sahuc) release of the final accreditation list for this year’s haj pilgrimage, many of the hujjaj have expressed concerns over the short period of time given to them to sort out travel arrangements. Hujjaj were given until Wednesday 23 April to confirm their accreditation, and Saturday 26 April to select a travel operator.

However, Nazir Malek, the chairperson of the South African Muslim Travellers Association (Samta) disagreed with the sentiment that the time given to hujjaj was insufficient. He said it was fair to assume the pilgrims could respond to the accreditation within a week, especially considering the amount of background work needed to organise the haj.

“It’s just a matter of saying yes you want to, or no you don’t want to. I don’t think that is a decision that should take very long for the hujjaj. If you knew you wanted to go, and you made the application, I think it is fair for you to say yes to the accreditation,” he said.

Malek said the organisation of the haj was further complicated by the fact that nearly 100 individuals had cancelled, with 500 having failed to accept the accreditation, despite the deadline passing. He claimed these statistics put Samta on the back foot, in terms of doing the organisation for the pilgrims.

“We have a lot of work to do, and early confirmation is of benefit to both us as agents, as well as the hujjaj themselves. Because one pilgrim does not want to go, it gives the chance to another,” he explained.

He also noted the small quota issued to South Africa by the Saudi Kingdom, had seen a major impact on the industry, with many operators being forced to close down their businesses.

However, he was optimistic that the quota would be increased in years to come, once renovations in the haram in Makkah were completed.

“I think with proper representation going forward from here, and the fact that the Saudi Kingdom won’t have any limitations in taking more numbers. I think it would be a good negotiation basis to work on. I certainly have hopes there will be a better quota for South Africans in the future,” he said.

Travelling advice

Discussing how hujjaj could protect themselves when selecting the right operators, he highlighted a new package offered by most of the operators which moved pilgrims out of Makkah on the 25th of Dhu’l-Qaidah. Malek said the reasons for this were to try and make the haj more affordable for pilgrims. He warned those selecting these packages, they would be accepting a package that spent five days less in Makkah, and would move to Azizia.

“This means you will have to commute from Azizia to Makkah to make Tawaaf. However, a good point to consider is, now that the haram is under renovation, it would be considerate on a pilgrim to think about a fellow pilgrim who hasn’t made and umrah or haj yet and give him the chance,” he said.

He added there would also be more affordable options in Mina, namely Camp B and Camp C, the latter of which was approximately 2.8km away from the Jamarat. He said both camps had good services, although Camp B offered slightly better services.

Malek also took the time to clarify the confusion surrounding the difference between travel agents and travel operators. An agent is defined as someone who has the proper trading licence and is working at a fully-fledged travel agency, whilst an operator is someone who worked either from home or an office, he had personally established.

“What’s important is if they are an accredited operator by Sahuc themselves, then they are safe to deal with. This is because Sahuc has gone through the steps of accrediting these operators based on track records,” he said. VOC (Mubeen Banderker

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