By Tendai Chara
Hordes of people have resumed camping outside the capital’s passport offices, raising the spectre of coronavirus infections, as standard health protocols are not being strictly observed.
Since the resumption of the issuance of passports and identity cards, multitudes have been thronging the Registrar-General’s (RG) Makombe Government Complex.
Opportunists such as vendors, street photographers and the odd lot of those who live on the streets are also part of the melee.
The Sunday Mail Society saw a sea of people that had gathered by the RG’s complex entrance by 6am on Thursday morning.
Some of them had joined the long, winding queue as early as 5am.
Pushing and shoving was inevitable, especially as the RG’s Office is reportedly attending to only 100 people per day.
However, last week, the bulk of the people that turned up were those who were hoodwinked by social media reports suggesting passport applications from February 2019 had been processed and were ready for collection.
The Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage has since dismissed the reports as fake.
“The Civil Registry Department is working round the clock to clear the passport backlog and any communication regarding the collection of passports by applicants will be communicated through official communication channels and through the Short Message Service (SMS) platform,” the ministry said in a statement.
Mr Farai Chipaze of Chitungwiza was a disappointed man and had no kind words for those who peddle fake news.
“What these people are doing is diabolic. When I saw the fake news, I was in Mutare and I had to hurry back, only to be told that it was a ruse. People should stop playing with our emotions,” a fuming Mr Chipaze, who was milling around the premises, said.
Inside the premises, scores of people were at the enquiries desk.
Passport officials, however, routinely advised people to disperse as they were not attending to those applying for ordinary passports.
Only those that had made applications for emergency passports were being attended to on that particular day.
Some enterprising youths who live on the streets have turned to the old ways of sleeping outside the offices in order to sell off their positions in the morning.
Some of the guards have also joined in the act of soliciting for bribes from those that are desperate to be served on time irrespective of their position in the queue.
The Government recently gave the nod for the resumption of issuance of civic documents.
Acting Registrar-General Mr Henry Machiri said they will redouble efforts to ensure applicants comply with health guidelines and protocols.
“With regards to your observation in which you highlighted that those seeking passports are not observing social-distancing measures, I have taken note of that and will act accordingly. As you might be aware, we are not 100 percent open. We are, however, working within the Covid-19 regulations,” Mr Machiri said.
He advised those that are seeking passports to be patient and ignore some of the fake social media news.
“We currently have only 40 percent of our staff. As such, our output is governed by the number of workers that we have. The sad thing is that the high number of people that are coming to our offices are responding to a fake social media posting.”
The Registrar-General’s Office is battling to clear the huge passport backlog.
Last year, the backlog was cut back by 20 percent, taking advantage of a lull in new applications due to Covid-19 restrictions that limited travel.
Before the lockdown, production of passports had been seriously affected by increasing applications and foreign currency shortages. Only 83 379 passports were processed during the first two months of the lockdown period. The Sunday Mail