Haj complaints: 3 days left
With only three days left before the deadline expires for dissatisfied hujjaj to file complaints against operators who failed to meet their promises to them, the South African Haj and Umrah Council reports that it still has received no more than five complaints. These relate specifically to matters that could not be settled between the operator and haji while on haj in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Last month, Sahuc secretary general, Shaheen Essop, reported that of the five complaints that were received, only two complaints were lodged based on the haj visa scam, while the remaining three related to a lack of service delivery from operators. All complaints must be in writing and should reach Sahuc no later than at close of business on Friday 13 January.
Essop said it must be accompanied by the documentation in support of such claim, such as the contracts and any other agreements between the hajji and operator. All complaints are to be directed to the secretary general of Sahuc either by email sent to Shaheen@netactive.co.za or by fax to 086 672 4913. It can also be sent by registered mail to P.O.Box 787616, Sandton, 2146. Upon receipt of these complaints, Essop said, dates will be set for mediation with an independent panel appointed to oversee the process and complainants will be advised accordingly.
Meanwhile, activists have begun to call for a formal commission of inquiry into last year’s haj visa debacle. VOC was informed by two sources that a letter to that effect has been sent to Marius Fransman, the deputy minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa. According to activist and lawyer, Igsaan Higgins, last year’s debacle cannot be allowed to repeat itself.
“There have been lots of threats of people wanting to go to court to sue for a class action amongst others. In so far as the class action is concerned, I don’t believe that can be effective. What do you want to achieve? Get the court to issue an order against and entire haj industry? I cannot see that it can have a practical outcome. Instead what should happen is that government needs to step in, but goverment has had a limited interest in the matter thus far.”
Higgins said it was critical for government to appoint a formal commission of inquiry, under the guidance of a retired judge to probe the debacle. “We especially need to probe where money was taken and people did not get haj visas or where outright fraud was committed; even more so if there has been any kind of collusion. The commission could include three people who must then make recommendations to the president. If this leads to a prosecution in a court of law or even for having breached any code of conduct, then so be it, but we have to clean up the haj industry,” he told VOC on Wednesday.
The attorney said the present state of the haj industry was deplorable and interference from a higher authority was critical. “We have to look at how we can make haj more affordable for people and how to take the process forward.” At the same time, he said people had to start accepting the idea that even the haj industry might have to be legislated. “I don’t believe the haj industry can’t be legislated. We have seen this kind of mess every year and decisive action is needed to appease Muslims, many of whom save for years to afford haj.”
Asked about Sahuc’s own investigation into the haj visa scam, he said: “You cannot be referee and player at the same time. The influence is too big. We need a completely independent body to look into this matter. If Sahuc’s hands are clean, it will come out in the report. As for government, for too long it has abdicated its role as custodian of Muslim pilgrims to others. They may think we are an insignificant number in SA, but government have a fiduciary duty over us.”
Higgins said while for many haj was a spiritual journey, for others it was a means to make money. “Aside from the spiritual aspects, haj is really about tourism and travel. For too long we have allowed some people to dominate this industry without accountability. It’s the same with the halal industry. We have to get the law to take these problem children of our society and regulate them. And we must lobby so that when action is taken against them, those bodies that do act to discipline them, have real teeth.” VOC (Munadia Karaan