Silence on quota
Ten days after Eidul Fitr, there is still no news on South Africa’s request for an addition to its haj quota of 2,500 which has already been filled. According to Shaheen Essop, secretary general of the South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc), this is the longest delay yet in announcing the additional quotas allocated by the Royal Diwan and it was a matter of grave concern given the ripple effect it has on the haj industry when such a request is granted.
Over 11,000 South Africans applied for haj this year, only 22% of whom were accredited. In the last 20 years, on average between 5,000 – 11,000 SA hujjaj performed the pilgrimage. However, over the last few years, Saudi haj authorities embarked on a deliberate campaign to eliminate repeat hujjaj in order to contain the number of pilgrims visiting the Kingdom over the haj period. Last year the smallest increase of 500 was granted to SA, allowing only 3,000 pilgrims for haj.
“We want to assure the South African public that this is not a case of Sahuc holding back news on the haj quota. There simply has been no news. We are doing whatever we can on our side, remaining in regular contact with the haj authorities, but thus far nothing has been forthcoming. We are not even certain what the reason for the hold up is, but at this point we are very concerned,” Essop told VOC on Tuesday.
The biggest concern was that if an additional quota is granted, those who are accredited – though they may want to perform haj – would not have enough time to make the necessary arrangements. “The operators would be able to handle the pressure, but the question is whether or not the hujjaj can be ready in time. Our belief has been that if any hajji seriously applies for accreditation, they have to be ready at thea drop of a hat if the accreditation comes through. Make the necessary arrangements in time, even if it is just tentative.”
But Essop admits that this is not easy to do, given that hujjaj then have to apply for leave and put all necessary steps in place in order for them to leave the country for a few weeks. The second major concern relates to the availability of seats on flights to the Kingdom if bookings are made too late. It could even impact severely on the cost of such tickets.
Asked what the reason could be for the delay in news on the additional quota, Essop said: “We cannot say because we are not hearing anything at all. We assume that because many heads of state were in the Kingdom in the last week in Ramadan for the OIC Makkah conference, the Royal Diwan might have been occupied with that. At this point we are all waiting and as soon as we hear anything, we will inform the Muslim public.”
Essop reported that thus far 19 of the accredited 34 operators had succeeded in signing the minimum of 45 hujjaj. “The remainder will wait it out until next year – since they have been accredited for three years – unless an additional quota is granted which will allow them to benefit,” he explained.
No word on haj quota
With just two months left before the start of the annual haj pilgrimage,the South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) has yet to receive any news from the Saudi Kingdom on whether the country will be receiving an addition to the quota of 2,500. A quota increase is traditionally announced during Ramadan or shortly thereafter, but the longer the wait, the more pressure it puts on the haj industry, experts say.
According to Sahuc secretary general, Shaheen Essop, the Kingdom goes into lull until the end of Ramadan as no offices are opened until after Eid. “It’s very difficult to say when we will receive an answer on the quota. Every year we have been asking them for an indication as early as possible. This year, we asked for a total quota of 7,500, but even 5,000 will be sufficient for us to manage,” said Essop. He was referring to the fact that over 11,000 people this year applied for haj accreditation.
However, last year South Africa received only an additional concession of 500, which meant the smallest number of hujjaj in almost two decades – a mere 3,000 – were allowed to perform haj in 2011. One of the big issues that the Kingdom is grappling with is the development in and around Makkah as there is a huge amount of buildings being thrown down in the holy city and this impacts on the number of pilgrims they can accommodate for haj.
Essop believes the extension of the Haram and the work around it gives the Kingdom the opportunity to reduce the number of visas. He emphasised that not a single country who had applied for an increase on their national quota, knows yet whether or not their increase has been granted. This comes as Sahuc is now in the throws of finalising the preparations for this year’s pilgrimage.
Meanwhile, after a call on VOC three weeks ago, the regulator received an overwhelming response from accredited hujjaj who have finally concluded their contracts with haj operators. This means that the full SA quota of 2,500 has now successfully been filled. This prompted Essop to urge these pilgrims to ensure that all logistics are in place for their trip.
“First of all, hujjaj should ensure they have copies of their passport, ID and travel documents. We will be working with the haj operators to ensure speedy visas from the Saudi Embassy. In turn, the embassy has agreed to work with us to get all the visas issues as soon as they can. Once all this is done, we will be geared for the departure of the first haj flights round about September 15, insha Allah,” said Essop.
Meanwhile, he reported that 3,877 visas were issued to South African mu’tamireen to perform umrah during Ramadan. According to the Haj Ministry, some six million pilgrims performed the minor pilgrimage this year. “The influx of pilgrims would be in the latter part of Ramadan where most people prefer to spend the last 10 days and spend time in the early parts of Shawaal before returning back home,” Essop added. VOC (Tashneem Abrahams)