Durban - South Africans have klapped back with a typical “jou ma se p**s” after reports that those wanting to travel to and from the UK were subjected to a general knowledge test in Afrikaans.
Low cost airline Ryanair, which claims to be the biggest airline group in Europe, subjected several South Africans to general knowledge questions in Afrikaans to prove that their passports were legitimate.
Over the past two weeks several accounts have surfaced on social media about travellers who complained that they were forced to write a test to prove they were South African.
Apparently not knowing the country’s official colour, the side of the road that we drive on or the capital city could mark you as a security risk and leave you stranded in a foreign country.
Capetonian Dinesh Joseph, who has lived in London since 2016, spent five fabulous days soaking up the sun in Lanzarote in the Spanish Canary Islands.
However, he said the good times were forgotten even before he left the island when a Ryanair official told him to take his boarding pass to their customer services desk to be stamped.
Joseph, a leadership and management trainer in the UK, said what happened next left him fuming.
“They took my passport and my boarding pass and handed me two photocopied pages with questions in Afrikaans that were printed skew. There was no letterhead, no logo or stamp, nothing to prove it was an official document.”
He was told he didn't have a choice in the matter because it was a “Ryanair rule” that South African travellers had to follow even though he told them he could not speak Afrikaans and would have to Google the answers.
“Luckily my primary school memories kicked in,” he said.
Joseph said he was mad as hell that they treated him as if he was “a monkey”, while his girlfriend, who is from the UK, was left gobsmacked.
The officials warned him that he would not be able to fly to the UK if he did not complete the form.
Afterwards a Ryanair employee pulled out a marking sheet to see if he had passed the test and Joseph said he became emotional at the indignity.
“The form is in Afrikaans, I filled it out in English and she spoke Spanish,” he said.
Joseph asked yesterday how this process would aid security at airports and “why the hell” Ryanair and not a government agency was doing the vetting.
“It seems as if it’s happening just indiscriminately against South Africans.”
He said the general theory doing the rounds was that South Africa had a reputation for high levels of fraud and corruption and that people were faking South African passports to enter different countries.
However, he said it was “ridiculous on every level” that an airline and not a government was doing a vetting process. In addition, no one could fake biometrics.
Joseph tried to lodge an official complaint with Ryanair after the ordeal but could not reach the airline.
“You can’t actually call them. I lodged a complaint on their portal and I haven’t heard from them in two weeks. They are like snakes in the grass, you can't catch them,” he said.
The Independent on Saturday made several attempts to contact Ryanair by email through their chat bot and via their call centre.
Eventually a call centre agent said they were only carrying out instructions that were listed on the UK government’s website and slammed down the phone.
No such requirement is listed on the website.
Isabel Potgieter, head of communication at the British High Commission in Pretoria, said: “We are aware of these reports. This is not a UK government requirement however.”
Potgieter said all information related to requirements for South African passport holders to enter the UK was available on their website.
The Embassy of Ireland in Pretoria said it was aware of the reports. “We are happy to clarify that the Irish immigration authorities do not under any circumstances require or administer such tests to passengers travelling to Ireland,” it said in a statement.
The Embassy said holders of valid South African Passports do not need an entry visa to come to Ireland for stays of shorter than 90 days. However, other standard immigration procedures do apply and all travellers (regardless of their country of citizenship) must be able to satisfy the Immigration Officer at the Port of Entry that they have a valid reason for entering Ireland.
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) is also aware of the issue.
Media liaison officer Lunga Ngqengelele said: “Home Affairs are responsible for immigration, however we are also investigating the matter from Dirco’s side.”
After expressing his anger, Joseph saw the funny side of things and said he got the first three questions wrong because he could only list one of South Africa’s capitals: Pretoria.
He said he also listed all the colours of the flag as the answer to what was South Africa’s official colour, but eventually settled on black, which Ryanair accepted as correct and he was then given his documents to board the flight.
Responses ranging from outraged to hilarious could be seen on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit as people commented on the test.
Amanda Muller said it was unbelievable: “You are NOT serious? Did one of the staff’s kids have a project on SA that needed completing? Totally unfathomable… what if you don't understand Afrikaans (like me)?”
A few people said the only response to all the questions was “Jou ma se p***!”
A few others vowed never to fly Ryanair again.
In February “The Times” newspaper in the UK wrote that Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary had called for Muslim men to be profiled at airports because they were a threat, unlike families with young children who had virtually no chance of being terrorists.
O’Leary was quoted as saying: “Who are the bombers? They are going to be single males travelling on their own. If you are travelling with a family of kids, on you go, the chances you are going to blow them all up is zero.
“You can’t say stuff, because it’s racism, but it will generally be males of a Muslim persuasion. Thirty years ago it was the Irish. If that is where the threat is coming from, deal with the threat.”
The Independent on Saturday