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May 12, 2022

By Annisa Essack

South African Muslim Travel Operators Association (SAMTOA) yesterday issued a press release informing the Muslim community regarding the background of the grievances with the South African Hajj and Umrah Council (SAHUC), including the legitimacy of the body, their interactions with the Department of International Relations (DIRCO) and the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL), a Chapter 9 institution.

Sedick Steenkamp, Chairperson of SAMTOA and Shaheen Essop, President of SAHUC, joined Mawlana Ravat on Sabahul Muslim today to discuss the issues.

A bone of contention for SAMTOA is that “SAHUC were presumptuous in assuming that they were still in charge of the Hajj quota whilst CRL and DIRCO were considering the state of Hajj administration.” DIRCO and the CRL have not returned with any resolution, and due to this, members of SAMTOA have not applied for accreditation.

Steenkamp believes that without the intervention and a resolution from the government, the Muslim Hujjaj are affected negatively.

SAMTOA has requested for the government to place an interim committee instead of allowing SAHUC alone and to ensure that the accreditation of Hajj operators happens in an orderly manner. Steenkamp says they are willing to accept these conditions to move forward; however, if the government does not step in timeously, SAMTOA members will sit the Hajj season out.

Steenkamp said that the four accredited operators, three of which were, at one time, members of SAMTOA, had chosen to go their own route, and he wished them well. He also wished the Hujjaj, who have been accredited and will be embarking on the journey.

Shaheen Essop says that the accreditation process was opened to all operators, and some, who were members of SAMTOA, had requested application documents but have not yet responded. He believes that the interest shown may have been to derail SAHUC’s processes and are now crying foul.

Thus, this now means that hujjaj can only choose from the four accredited operators should they decide to book for the Hajj.

Essop says that the hujjaj are of paramount importance to SAHUC, and they will ensure that the process is facilitated for them.

He further explained that the talks which Steenkamp says took place in Cape Town last week were convened by an MP in his personal capacity, but the bottom line was that SAMTOA still had no acknowledgement of SAHUC.

Essop said since the government had given SAHUC the mandate in 1995/1996, they would continue with that mandate until the CRL finalised the process. He also added the investigation into the need for SAHUC was welcomed and that a majority felt that there was a need for SAHUC. However, he did add that maybe a relook at SAHUC’s constitution, policies and processes was needed.

Speaking on the issue of refunds after the cancellations that occurred due to COVID-19 in 2020, Essop believed that SAHUC was bringing operators to book was the cause for the deviation.

Furthermore, he felt that SAMTOA understood the process required to be fulfilled but chose instead not to follow it and therefore, SAHUC could not be held responsible.

On the reason why South Africa was recognised by the Saudi government as a “Muslim majority country”, Essop explained that countries belonging to the Hajj Mission are classified as “Muslim Majority” countries.

Essop gave feedback regarding the finalisation of affordability for the Hujjaj who are ready to embark on their Hajj preparation and journey. He says that SAHUC is working with the Saudi government and relevant authorities to provide clarity.

The deadline for choosing an operator was to have ended on Friday, 13 May 2022, but SAHUC has extended it by a week, so Hujjaj has until 18 May 2022 to accept accreditation and choose an operator by the 20 May 2022.

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