I need to walk through the steps I took to get registered for classes. While the International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO) has a lovely set of student Orientation Leaders (OLs) and professional staff who are always willing to help, they seem to have decided not to put together any literature providing step-by-step instructions for the international student. I cannot claim that my entry will comprehensively resolve this issue, but I can offer what I can (especially as someone for whom this process is not the "normal" one).
The first step is Pre-Registration (Pre-Reg). Essentially, this is a process that ALL international students must go through. Much of it seems redundant in the face of what I had to do to get my student visa. Still, this is the University and not the South African consulate, so I do not expect that they really talked to each other. You stand in one excessively long line (ours was longer due to load-shedding) to have someone verify that you have insurance and fees covered (UC students' fees are paid through UCEAP, so this part is not a big deal for us). The proof of insurance is fun, since the insurance card that UC provides for study abroad students fails to have things like your member id or coverage dates printed on the card. So, essentially, it looks useless. Fortunately, This Is Africa, and no one seemed to hung up on details. I had to mentally work out my coverage dates (starts 15 days before the program and ends 30 days after). After this, you stand in a second line where they verify that you have a passport, study permit, and address. They then scan your passport and visa into their system (one of many sessions they call "data capture" any time it is not actually happening).
Where shoes for standing. Bring water and a book. Come provisioned with snacks. Enjoy conversations with Zimbabwean students in line with you. Thank whichever deities you like for moments of shade on the hot day. Curse Eskom and the South African government for their mismanagement of the electrical infrastructure of the nation that has lead to regular power outages resulting in a limited number of laptops with which they can conduct pre-registration on campus. Whatever passes the time...
At the end of pre-reg data capture, you are given an important sheet of paper that is your pre-reg clearance. This important little sheet of wood pulp is what will allow one to register for classes on the assigned day (although I have encountered numerous people who just registered whenever and completely disregarded the posted dates and times for departmental registration...sheer anarchy!). I then could wander a corridor over and discover what courses I had been pre-cleared to take. This means that the departments had reviewed my transcripts and the courses I selected on my UCT application and then decided for which of the courses I had met the appropriate pre-requisites.
That prepares one to actually register. The key to this process is that there is no key. There is no centralized, homogenized process. Each department is a little different. They also each handle their own registration. What people fail to communicate is that regardless of whicever department/faculty is conducting the course you take, you must register (as well as add/drop courses) with your hosting faculty. Since I applied as a student in the faculty of science, I do my registration there. Later, I ended up dropping one course and adding another. While all of the paperwork for it was managed by an adviser in the humanities faculty, I still had to take the forms to the science faculty for data capture.
Even once you have registered, that does not mean you automatically are bestowed with the knowledge of where and when the courses meet. They publish the lecture period (1st, 2nd, etc.) in the faculty handbooks (the equivalent of our course catalogs), but not every course meets every day (except for mine). That information will eventually be posted on a site called PeopleSoft where you must verify that they performed the data capture correctly. However, it can take 24 hours. They say it like it is a minimum amount of wait time rather than "within 24 hours."
Since my registration was scheduled for the day before class, this was not really an option. So, I had to run around to the different departments (a subdivision of the faculty based on the specific discipline) to inquire. This meant running to the Biology faculty for my marine ecosystems class, the Archaeology department (in the Humanities faculty) for my archaeology course, and then the Molecular and Cellular Biology department for my chemical biology class. That last class ended up being dropped, and I then had to find out from the African Languages and/or Nederland/Afrikaans studies Departments where my Afrikaans language class met. Many of those visits yielded me a class time and location, but did not necessarily bestow knowledge of text books.
It was a frantic and frustrating experience, but it was by no means not survivable. My case was somewhat special. My registration through the Science Faculty, for whatever reason, was almost a full week after the registration for the Humanities Faculty. Therefore, they had a full week to track down details before classes started. I had about 20 hours. Then, I have to admit that I spent several days in Zimbabwe that I could have spent settling myself with some details of the process.
Future students: be patient. stay calm. Remember: You're in Africa! :)