By Kathy Gibson
We all know that it's a good thing that our country's records are being computerised, but I hope the vast sums of money that the Department of Home Affairs is spending on new systems are going to be a bit more efficient than the current version.
I am in the middle of a Home Affairs nightmare and, between poor service and lousy computerisation, there doesn't seem to be a solution in sight.
What happened is this: neither my 14-year-old daughter nor myself are in possession of birth certificates and figured that we should probably made an effort to retify this sorry state of affairs.
To this end we sauntered off to the Home Affairs office in Randburg one Saturday morning a couple of months ago. We chose a Saturday because I work full-time and she is at school most of the day and we realised that we may be spending some time over the application.
Just a couple of short hours later, we had handed in our applications for unabridged birth certificates, paid our R100.00 and been informed we should aim for a collection date about eight weeks down the line.
As an aside, we had also run the gauntlet of desperados who stand guard over the rather alarming potholes in the car park and agreed to pay handsomely to avoid the overt threat to our physical safety.
Eight weeks later we returned, this time with an adult male escort to make the car park experience a little less worrying (we still had to pay up, but at least the threats were more subtle).
Hooray, my birth certificate was ready to be printed out, but my daughter's was going to take a further week.
Alas, my birth certificate may have been ready but a couple of items are missing and at least one that is there, is incorrect.
It would appear that, when a request is received for a birth certificate, the original document is drawn from the archives and then someone sits there and enters the information thereon to a computerised form.
Patently, if something on the original document is unclear or missing, or if the input clerk doesn't understand it, it is simply left off or made up.
Some examples from my document include an absence of my parents' ID numbers. Obviously, at the time of my birth (long, long ago), there were so such things as ID numbers so these weren't included originally.
However, since the new form calls for them, would it not have been possible, sometime during the eight weeks, for a computer search to reveal whether this information exists or not and then include it? Apparently not.
Ditto for their dates of birth – the dates on my birth certificate read "33yrs" and "24yrs", their ages at the time of my birth.
I'd be more than happy to supply the missing information, but there wasn't anywhere on the application form for it and – as you'll read – no way of changing it afterwards.
Another field asks for parents' places of birth and this is where the input clerk's imagination apparently comes into play – because, although my mother was born in what is now Zambia and failed to achieve even permanent residence in South Africa during her life, she was apparently born right here in the R of SA.
Unfortunately, you can't report changes to the Home Affairs office on a Saturday, but need to either come in on a weekday (impossible, as I use those hours to work) or phone head office to report the errors and effect a change.
I decided to phone. Silly me: as I'm writing this, I have been holding on for someone to talk to me for exactly two hours and am starting to believe that it's not going to happen at all.
And now I don't know what to do: as a fairly important official document, it would be better if my birth certificate were correct – but it seems it's going to be unbelievably difficult if not impossible to make this happen. Worse, the newly-computerised information is now wrong so these errors are likely to dog me for the rest of my life.
I can't wait for next Saturday to see what information appears on my daughter's birth cetificate.