From mothers with crying babies all over, elderly people with walking sticks losing balance and only getting support from the dirty dusty surfaces, the once white walls, to the young and the cocky young men and women, it was chaos all over as all these were scrambling to fit into the narrow corridor that leads to the cashier at the Registrar General’s Office.
The pushing and shoving only got better when anti-riot police entered the corridor while threatening to fire teargas into the building, which is illegal as a tear gas can only be dispersed in an open space.
Other police officers, however, were cautious as they advised the somewhat drunk police officer not to cause commotion which will lead to a deadly stampede.
Outside the building, hundreds of desperate passport seekers were still desperate to know if there was meaningful progress and some were losing their patience.
A long winding queue which got close to the Central Business District was a welcome remark which showed the dire situation ahead.
At the gate, there were about 15 anti-riot police officers in their full gear ready to quell any noise. If they had not come, the situation would have moved to another level as tempers were flaring.
Others walked away after realising they could not make it as the numbers had continued to swell.
Such was the situation Tuesday morning in Zimbabwe where passport seekers were stuck at the Registrar General’s (RG) offices after they all bought into messages that circulated on social media that the office would be issuing the emergency passport.
However, the message which was intended for those who had initially applied for the emergence document and were asked to bring proof of why they needed an emergency passport, spread like a veld fire as even those who initially had applied for the general one all came trying to take chances.
When 263Chat visited the RG’s office Tuesday morning, the situation was tense and chaotic as the elderly and young people all stampeded to make it first to drop their papers.
Some of people who spoke to 263Chat said they had been told to come back after three weeks, having initially applied last month.
“I came here at 5:30 because I was told to come back here when I applied for the document three weeks ago. They said I should come back on 8 October 2019 to drop my emergence application forms which explains why I needed this document,” said Auberry Chari, who claimed that his brother is critically ill in South Africa and he needed to attend to him.
Other people who had applied for the document said they were returning citizens who had come to renew their passport after expiring in a foreign land.
“I’m based in Dubai, I came back about a month ago so that I would have my passport renewed, so I was told to come back today with a supporting document on why I should get an emergency passport but it’s ridiculous because what could be urgent than an expired passport,” said one disgruntled middle-aged man.
A source within the institution told us their office was not printing any passport and the desperados would still go back home empty-handed.
“We are only printing less than 80 passports and what we are seeing outside is a very sad development. We cannot tell them that we do not have much to offer because there would be chaos, so we would rather give them a false pretence that something will work out,” said the source.
The Registrar-General’s Office has started producing 8 000 passports daily with a view to clear the 280 000 backlogs that has accumulated at the Passport Office
Most Zimbabweans have been making frantic efforts to get passports as they seek to cross the border in search of better opportunities as the situation in the country continues to dwindle.
Many are running away from a hyper-inflationary environment which has seen prices of basic commodities, fuel and other necessities skyrocket by more than 200% in the last few weeks.
Attempts to get a comment from the Registrar General Clemence Masango were futile.
This news crew visited his office and was told he was not around. No one knew where he was.
263Chat further pressed for comment from anyone who deputised him, but it seemed all the “important’ people were out of the office and their mobile phones were not reachable.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader, Nelson Chamisa responded to the situation on his Twitter handle by blaming corruption on the part of government while calling for reforms.
“This is an example of failure and refusal to accept that the consequences of corruption & incompetence result in people suffering. This long queue of Zimbabweans waiting for passport applications in Park Street is a compelling call and an urgent need for a CHANGE & POLITICAL REFORMS,’ said the opposition leader.
A backlog of passport applications and other identity documents has left many Zimbabweans who make their living from cross-border trade hanging in the balance.