Muslim travel agents question South African Hajj and Umrah Council’s legitimacy

Muslim pilgrims pray on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, outside Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Picture: REUTERS

Muslim pilgrims pray on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, outside Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Picture: REUTERS

Published Feb 14, 2023


Cape Town - Muslim travel agents have questioned the legitimacy of the South African Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) and its powers to allow or decline accreditation for tour firms to conduct business as Hajj operators.

The dispute recently landed in the Western Cape High Court where the travel agencies applied for an order to compel Sahuc to conclude their pending appeals lodged against its decision to decline their accreditation applications.

Sahuc was ordered by the court to listen to the appeals of the six travel agents it had found to be non-compliant – Al Safir, Al Massi Nujoom, Umrah Tours & Nuri’s Travel, Shafiq’s Travel, Al Anwar Hajj and Umrah, and Yasmine’s Travel.

Having done so, Sahuc insisted that the firms had still not complied as documents relating to Popia compliance certificates and insurance policies were still outstanding.

South African Muslim Travel Association (Samtoa) chairperson Sedick Steenkamp said Sahuc was using the issue of non-compliance as a smokescreen.

He said Sahuc had told the travel agents to quit Samtoa and apologise to it in order to be accredited.

Steenkamp said the appeals process was hurried, unfair and unjust and said Samtoa was considering taking the matter back to court.

South Africa has been granted a quota of 2 500 pilgrims to embark on the trip to Mecca at the end of June. Hajj packages vary in price and cost about R100 000 on average per person.

Local advocacy group Hajj Watch chairperson Jakes Rawat said Sahuc was upset with the travel agents for taking the matter to court and forcing their hand with the issue of accreditation.

“Be that as it may, the question here is who are these people (Sahuc)? Where did they get their authority?”

Rawat said as far as he was concerned Sahuc had no legislative or punitive power and no right to exercise the authority they claimed to have.

Concerning the court-ordered appeals, Al Jamah-ah City councillor Shameemah Salie said Sahuc had not applied their mind to the matter and went into the appeals process with a predetermined decision.

Salie alleged that Sahuc was always threatening tour operators with non-accreditation.

Sahuc has denied all the allegations and secretary-general Hassan Choonara said that the organisation was charged with setting the criteria and prerequisites for any operator to trade as a hajj operator.

“They did not meet those requirements and we only stated the reasons why they were declined.

“We had an appeals hearing with them and we still told them that they came short in terms of the requirements and we cannot accredit them. It’s as simple as that.”

Choonara said that the former members of Samtoa had resigned voluntarily and had not been pressured by his organisation.

He claimed that in years past, Samtoa had approached the International Relations and Co-operation ministry to ask for their own quota for South Africa.

“They made a lot of allegations and told a lot of lies in the public domain over the last year and a half,” he said.

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