Dozens of people due to fly to Nigeria this past weekend were unable to obtain visas because the embassy in Johannesburg apparently ran out of visa stickers.
On Friday at least 200 people, many of them with business appointments in Nigeria, crowded inside the embassy desperately trying to collect their visas.
“There are about 200 people in there right now who have got flight tickets for this weekend,” said Jan Schavemaker, owner of visa company Republic of Service Excellence (ROSE).
“But they’re not going to be going to Nigeria this weekend. Some of these guys are top business executives going over there to do big business. There are three or four flights out there a week, so you can only imagine how empty the flights are going to be,” said Schavemaker, adding that the embassy has also lost the passport of one of his clients who travels two to three times a month.
“They just sort of shrug. That embassy is a law unto itself,” he said.
The visa bungle is just the latest incident a string of complaints directed at the embassy over the past few months.
Since the beginning of the year, people returning from Nigeria have been unsuccessfully trying to reclaim their R6000 deposits from the embassy. The deposits, for first-time travelers, were introduced by the consulate at the beginning of November last year.
Attempts to claim the deposits were met with “vague instructions to come back at a later date”, said Brian van Tonder, the managing director of Rose.
Arcus Gibb, a large engineering and science consultancy company that has been working on a project in Nigeria for a number of years and frequently sends staff to that country, is owed “a huge amount of money”, said Irene Pillay, executive PA at the company. She said the company that handled their visa applications had informed them there was “no guarantee” the company would get the money back.
“We have a huge project underway in Nigeria and so there is lots of travelling. They are just messing around with us. If they have received the money it is the right thing to do to give it back.
The consulate’s failure to refund deposits has led to visa companies taking the unprecedented move of singling the consulate out in disclaimers – apparently a first in the South African travel industry.
Van Tonder said that since the beginning of the year the company had asked first time travelers to Nigeria to sign a disclaimer absolving ROSE of any responsibility for retrieving their deposit. ROSE is one of SA’s largest visa companies and services 1500 travel agencies nationwide,
Nonhlanhla Andover, a visa consultant at MDS Visapak, said the company no longer dealt with visa refunds, and this was now the client’s responsibility.
“We don’t know why, but people are struggling to get their money back. So now we ask our clients to do that themselves,” she said.
Attempts to get comment from the Nigerian consulate and the Department of International Relations were unsuccessful.