S. African pilgrims arrive on Aug. 25
South African pilgrims are expected to arrive in Jeddah on Aug. 25, Ebrahim Edries, the country’s consul-general, told Arab News on Monday.
Edries expressed gratitude and appreciation for the services rendered by the government to pilgrims irrespective of where they come from.
South African pilgrims will be ferried by the Kingdom’s national carrier, Saudi Arabian Airlines. Edries said the first group will comprise 120 pilgrims, who will be flying in on a regular flight.
Saudi Arabian Airlines operate three flights a week to Johannesburg, he added.
The consul-general explained that pilgrims coordinate with the South African Haj and Umrah Council, which sets a quota of 2,000 pilgrims from among the thousands of Haj applicants.
“We have a large database, which has registered a large number of applicants over the past 10 years,” he said. “The council picks prospective applicants on a first-come, first-served basis.”
Since the country has a set of quota of pilgrims allowed to perform Haj every year, “applicants often have to wait a long time before they can perform Haj,” he said. “The database contains registrant information of first-timers only.”
“South Africa has some 26 Haj operators who would serve pilgrims through their offices in Johannesburg,” said Edries.
The consul-general said that the South African Haj and Umrah Council would also fly out a medical team and a group of 20 volunteers to help pilgrims during their stay in Makkah and Madinah.
Edries described his country as a secular state that has a Muslim population of 3 million.
“South Africa used to send 7,000 to 10,000 pilgrims every year prior to the introduction of the quota system,” he said.
Haj Ministry spokesman Hatem Qadhi, meanwhile, said that the ministry has approved operational plans for the six “tawafa” (Haj guidance) establishments in Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah.
He added the ministry has also specified that all Umrah visitors leave the country by Aug. 11.
Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar met Sunday with Haj establishments and other Haj-related councils in Makkah to assess shortcomings during last year’s season and to find ways to improve services ahead of this year’s Haj.
Hajjar’s first meeting was with the chairmen and members of the National Tawafa Establishment for South East Asian pilgrims and the National Tawafa Establishment for pilgrims coming from Arab countries. During the meeting, the minister emphasized the need for intensifying the preparations and arrangements and praised the effort exerted by authorities to ensure quality and efficiency.