By Nadia Krige
It’s not every day that the government proposes to do something that seems to be for the greater good.
So, when Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor recently announced a plan to take on the UK over its stringent visa rules for South African travellers, I was impressed.
As the holder of a plain old “biltong book” (the green South African passport), with its reputation for not really being able to take you to that many places on its own, I found the idea of being able to enter the UK without all the Visa application hassle rather appealing. Going back to the golden days before 2009 – when our visa-free status was revoked – would make life a whole easier for a whole lot of people, especially those with family in the UK.
However, when I heard that the combat strategy would be a childish tit-for-tat approach, demanding similar sort of Visa restrictions for UK visitors coming to South Africa, I was appalled.
Are they serious? Does Minister Pandor really, really, really think a petty little quip like this would make a country flooded with illegal foreigners from all corners of the world (and, yes, ours too) suddenly change their minds about entry and exit regulations?
While I’m no expert, I kind of have a hunch that it won’t.
Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), my suspicions have been confirmed by a number of people in the know.
According to Brent Willie from Global Visas South Africa, a move like this will certainly deter UK visitors from coming to South Africa, which will, in turn, lead to a sad decline in the glowing tourism stats announced by President Jacob Zuma himself earlier this year.
While we have seen a very welcome influx of Asian tourists over the past few years, Europe has been and remains South Africa’s biggest source market – of which visitors from the UK and Germany make up the majority.
As Brent pragmatically points out, the reason we have countries like the UK on the visa waiver program (allowing 90 days visa-free access) is to encourage them to come to our country and spend their money.
“As long as we have so many illegal expats living in the UK (and we have quite a bit), visa regulations will remain stringent. It’s unfortunate, but a few bad eggs have spoiled it for the rest of us,” he explains.
Apart from this, Brent also doesn’t believe that Home Affairs currently has the capacity to process applications of this sort efficiently. “Although the Department of Home Affairs’ service delivery has improved over the past two years, it’s not quite ready to handle the scope of the admin connected to these sorts of visa restrictions.”
Speaking in the same vein, Pretoria-based tourism expert, Martin van Niekerk told Beeld that Pandor’s hostile reciprocity would be short-sighted, as “Britain [is] South Africa’s largest tourist market.”
But perhaps, it is Prof Sanette Ferreira, of Stellenbosch University’s geography and environmental studies department, who makes the best point.
She told Beeld that putting Visa restrictions in place for state security reasons is always a good idea.
Coupled with an efficient, speedy application system, it could be a workable one too. However, the complex logistics British visitors would have to face when applying for a Visa, will send them running, without a doubt.
How can one be so sure? Well that’s exactly what happened when the UK imposed Visa restrictions on South Africans in March 2009 – the number of South African visitors to the UK declined by 35% between 2009 and 2011. Not the type of figure we’d like to see happen in reverse, or what?
Shooting ourselves in the foot
All things considered, it’s clear that implementing visa restrictions for UK visitors to South Africa for no better reason than showing them that whatever they can do, we can do… too, will be as effective as a shot to the foot, if not the head. Because, the fact is, we need them more than they need us right now.
So, if Home Affairs is raring to do something big and brilliant, should they maybe not concentrate on tightening our own border controls, eradicating the roots of corruption in its ranks? Should they not think of taking a page from the UK’s book and work harder at solving the growing problem of illegal immigrants seeking greener pastures in South Africa?
In fact, this might do more for the lifting UK visa restrictions on South African travellers than they can imagine, as the number of fake SA passport holders will decline.
I’m not sure about you, but to me this childish tit-for-tat approach seems almost as silly and unproductive as that time Home Affairs delayed the Dalai Lama’s visa request and he missed his good friend, Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday.
So, in the words of the internet: Go home, Home Affairs, you’re drunk. But please come back with a more executable plan when you’ve slept it off – we could all do with a bit more stress-free travel!