Tuesday, 16 March 2021

HUNDREDS FALL FOR PASSPORT HOAX


HUNDREDS of people yesterday thronged the Bulawayo Passport Office after being misled by social media reports that travel documents applied for by the end of February 2020 were ready for collection.

The correct position that was published in the Chronicle last week is that passports that were applied for by the end of February 2019 are ready.

Government was utilising the lockdown period to clear a passport backlog which was close to 200 000.

The passport backlog is a result of shortage of foreign currency to procure some of the consumables used in the production of passports. Registry officials were overwhelmed and had to turn some members of the public away.

The queue snaked from the gate of the passport office along 10th Avenue, making a turn along Herbert Chitepo Street towards 11th Avenue before it made another turn towards Basch Street.

Some of the members of the public said the queue nearly reached the robots at the intersection of 11th Avenue and Basch Street.

A Chronicle news crew yesterday caught up with some of the passport applicants who revealed how they were fooled by the social media message.

“I read WhatsApp messages that the passports that were applied for up to February 2020 were out and we should come and collect. So, I was excited and came to collect my passport that I applied for in June 2019. But when I arrived here, I was told that the passport is not yet out so it’s really confusing,” said a woman who declined to be named.

“So, I’m really disappointed as I have wasted a lot of money coming here for nothing. I thought the information on WhatsApp was authentic. And why would someone spread false information on such issues? What do they stand to benefit?”

Another passport applicant who identified herself as Mrs Nkomo said she was disappointed that registry official stopped serving them at 1pm.

“We spent the whole morning in a queue. They had to cut the number of people they were serving because there were a lot of people who came through today. Imagine, I joined the queue when it was at the corner of Lobengula Street and 11th Avenue. When we were close to the entrance, we were told that they were no longer serving anyone. If only they opened for us after lunch,” said Mrs Nkomo.

Another applicant Mr Mbuso Siziba said he had lingered at the passport office hoping that officials would change their mind.

“You know I’m excited that my passport is out. I applied for it in December 2018 so if their cut off is February 2019, I know I’m guaranteed of collecting it. Even if borders are closed it’s good to just have your passport with you. Ungeke wazi okungavuka and you lose an opportunity because you don’t have a travel document. I’m sure that my passport is out because officials here have been emphasising to the people in the queue that the passports that are ready for collection are those applied for before the end of February 2019,” said Mr Siziba.

Touts who operate outside the passport office tried to take advantage of the situation claiming that they could facilitate for some of the members of the public to obtain their passports. 

However, provincial registrar Mrs Jane Peters is on record warning members of the public not to engage in any business with the touts as they risk being fleeced.

She said the touts do not work for the registry and have no business on matters relating to her office. Mrs Peters could not be reached for comment yesterday as she was out of office.

A registry official who was not cleared to talk to the Press said they were shocked by the number of people who came to collect their passports yesterday.

“I think this was a combination of two factors, some read social media messages and were misled into believing that their passports were out. But others followed authentic information. A lot of people walked away with their passports today. But members of the public should also understand that we cannot serve them all at one go.

“The queue was almost reaching Basch Street from our gate. We could not serve them all at once, only if they came in batches, we would be able to serve them. At the moment we are not operating with a full staff complement because of Covid-19. Members of the public should understand that,” said the official. Chronicle

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