There are 17,000 South African Muslims on the waiting list to go on the annual Hajj pilgrimage, The South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) told HuffPost SA on Friday. Many of them have been waiting since 2013 to do the once-in-a-lifetime trip.
The backlog comes after Saudi Arabian officials drastically reduced the quota of South Africans allowed to enter the Kingdom during the Hajj period. Over 2.5 million Muslims attended the event, which takes place this weekend in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and is compulsory for Muslim believers who have the means to do so, according to the Qu'ran.
Only 2,500 South Africans will attend the pilgrimage this year, the Sahuc says, which costs around R40,000 per person for six weeks, excluding flights.
President Shaheen Essop expressed his disappointment with Saudi authorities in 2015, when the quota for South Africans was first reduced.
"South Africa will only be able to send 3,000 pilgrims for Hajj this year, making it the lowest turnout in decades. Before the implementation of the Haj quota system an average of 7,000 to 10,000 South African performed Haj annually," Shaheen said.
But Sahuc Secretary General, Hassan Thoonara, told HuffPost that for those who couldn't go to Hajj there is another pilgrimage event called Umrah, which is cheaper, and sees fewer people attending.