Thursday 7 January 2021

In embassies of embarrassment

Done without a fuss

This morning, I had an appointment at the British Consulate in Cape Town for 9:00AM. It was just a kilometre from our apartment and with a brisk walk, I was at the reception with 10 minutes to spare. The wait to get registered was exacerbated by people ahead of me who appeared to be unsure of why they were in the building and then by staff at the consulate itself acting like Pinky and Perky trying to discover my name from the appointment sheet.

Once I was let in, I filled in the CoVID-19 monitoring sheet along with my mobile phone number in a space that was not designated for that information but had to be entered by their instruction. Next, I rang the bell at the service counter and a very pleasant and friendly lady appeared, asked for what I was after, took a pre-typed form from the tray signed it and stamped it. My official purpose was done.

She wished me well as we had a little chat about my getting married, I was out of the building at 9:05 AM.

Moribund systems of angst

My consulate experience was easy, quick, and efficient. Then I learnt of another involving the US Consulate that required a payment for which there were no electronic payment systems that the person had to make a 10-hour round-trip to Cape Town just to make that payment. Bureaucracies can be completely insufferable and frustrating.

Just to the North of South Africa is Zimbabwe, and one would expect with a consulate in Cape Town, no one will suggest you must return to Zimbabwe to obtain a document you need for an activity in South Africa. That assumption was shot to bits when an official did say a document should first be obtained from the country and then brought to the consulate for certification.

There is no logical sense to this and apparently, no recourse to any alternative arrangements as it seems, the bureaucratic systems bequeathed to many Commonwealth states by the British have become beacons of red tape inertia, completely impervious to improvement or progress.

My experiences indicate

It reminds me of when I visited India in 2011 and the visa acquisition process was so fraught that my European or British citizenship almost counted for nothing that the pertinent information, they required related to that of my parents and I was already in my forties. Whilst it was eventually sorted out in 5 days, there was a likelihood of an 8-week processing time and I paid the processing fee a Nigerian would have paid, even though my passport was British.

However, in my experience, British consulates have been helpful and efficient. I would presume my status and standing gives me those privileges. Even in Nigeria over 30 years ago, it was a breeze for me when it might have been an ordeal for others. I knew why I was there, I had everything needed to request what I wanted, formalities were quickly dispensed with and we settled into banter and small talk with raucous laughter. It could be better for others too.

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