About 7 years ago I was forced to endure the wretched queues at the Department of Home Affairs to register Nuha. Accompanied by my mum and newborn Nuha we sat (thankfully) in a long winding queue in a really hot weird-smelling Home Affairs office.
Upon eventually reaching the counter I submitted all the necessary forms and then turned to my mum and said, "I'd better find a safe place for the three kids' birth certificates".
"What you mean three kids?" interrupted the woman behind the counter rudely. "According to our system you only have two children- it's this one and another one, er Shakeel".
"No," I argued. Now, normally I am not the argumentative type- I usually just accept that I'm wrong, but not this time.. Nobody was going to deny the 14 hours of labour and countless sleepless nights I had endured with Tharaa by denying her existence. "I also have another 3 year old daughter," I explained, providing Tharaa's details. I was sure that it was just a misunderstanding which would be resolved in a minute.
"Uh uh," she argued. "You only have Shakeel and then there's this baby. There is no other child- I would have seen it on this computer".
I whipped out Tharaa's birth certificate feeling victorious and clever. Read it and weep, I silently taunted her.
"Er...oh" (silence). Then, "It doesn't matter. She is not on the system. You must re-register her".
Wwhaaat!!! "But, but ..this" I said waving Tharaa's birth certificate at her, feeling less confident now. She was not supposed to have argued back. She was supposed to have taken one look at the certificate- my trump card- and apologised profusely, perhaps saying how stupid she was feeling.
"That means nothing, "she said definitively. "You must re-register her."
Nothing would change her mind. I asked her how she thought I had managed to get hold of the birth certificate if my child did not exist. Eventually she was forced to concede that sometimes people got lost in the system.
She had acknowledged that they were at fault. But it didn't matter. I still had to re-register Tharaa and apply for a new birth certificate.
That was seven years ago.
This morning I once again found myself at the counter of a Home Affairs office. This time though I marvelled at the improvements which had been implemented. Queues were shorter. There was a very very efficient person at the Information Desk, providing people with the correct forms and directing them to the correct counters. There was a woman walking around the office addressing people's queries, probably to prevent them from having to stand in unnecessary queues. I was suitably impressed.
At the counter I explained that my bag containing Shakeel and Tharaa's birth certificates had been stolen. I wanted to apply for new certificates. No problem- the young lady behind the counter checked the system for the details of their existing certificates. And then..
"There is a Shakeel on our system. But no Tharaa- this child has never been registered under your, the mom's ID number".
I thought I was about to explode. Into fits of laughter.
It didn't matter that I didn't have a certificate to prove her existence. It wouldn't have mattered anyway. She would have to be re-registered. I asked how to re-register her.
"Oh, you can't," she replied, very very abruptly.
We stared at her, waiting for her to continue. She didn't.
"What do you mean?"asked Mo, clearly confused. "What is the next step to obtaining a new certificate?"
"You can't," repeated the young lady, becoming increasingly impatient. "You have to find the original certificate".
Oh, now why hadn't we thought of that? Come to think of it, it was starting to appear that we stood a better chance of tracking down the thief who took my bag two years ago and retrieving the original certificate, than obtaining a new certificate through official channels.
"If you can't give me the certificate number on the original certificate, I can't help you. You must find the original. Or don't you keep copies? You should always keep copies", she kindly shared her wisdom with us, the clueless couple in front of her.
You are right, I felt like saying. I should have foreseen that you'd lose my child in your system for the second time. So I should most definitely have made copies. I should also apologise on behalf of my troublesome daughter- for her mischievous tendency to lose herself in your system.
But obviously I said nothing.
Mo looked incredulous. He did not understand how something so basic could not be accomplished. Mr Problem-solver Business Analyst looked about ready to leap over the counter to conduct the search through their primitive IT system himself.
"Can't you search under the mother's ID number?" he suggested again.
"I told you- no". Shaking his head in utter disbelief, Mo requested to see the supervisor who told him that it was possible to have a new certificate re-issued, but this would entail a three month wait.
We shrugged. What choice did we have, really?
On the bright side, we are actually quite lucky that the need arose to have a new certificate reissued or we would never have known that Tharaa was still not on their system. What would then have happened had we needed to apply for a passport for our officially non-existent child?
After our entertaining morning at Home Affairs, we headed off to Biesmiellah Take Aways in Bo-Kaap, where we sat in the car snacking on yummy freshly-fried samoosas and bollas.
"Ow!!" I shrieked after burning my fingers on a scorching hot samoosa. Two year old Aisha giggled and giggled.
"Mommy said 'ow!!'. Mommy's Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson says 'ow!!'
All traces of post-Home Affairs annoyance melted away.