by Khulekani Magubane, 26 September 2014, Business Day live
SOUTH Africa is still hoping that the British government will reintroduce a visa exemption for South Africans travelling to the UK although SA is by no means on its knees over the issue, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba told reporters on Thursday.
Mr Gigaba’s position follows the introduction of visa requirements for British government officials and diplomats in September. The requirement is a tit-for-tat response to the introduction of visa requirements on all South Africans by the UK.
Mr Gigaba told reporters in Pretoria that the South African government had tried to resolve the matter with the UK by seeking a visa-requirement exemption for South African diplomats and officials but “those efforts were in vain”.
“We engaged the British government to understand the rationale and make them reconsider or at least exempt officials and diplomats. When engagements were in vain we then decided to reciprocate as an international principle but exempted ordinary citizens of the UK,” Mr Gigaba said.
Officials and diplomats of the UK would have to apply for a visa in person at the SA high commission in Britain before visiting SA, Mr Gigaba said. He also said SA did not understand why Britain had introduced the requirements but dismissed the argument that the South African passport was not secure.
SA would consider reviewing requirements for British officials and diplomats if the UK was prepared to review their requirements on travellers from SA, said Mr Gigaba.
Meanwhile, the minister said home affairs was to start processing applications for the Zimbabwe Special Project regime from October.
The new regime is an extension for Zimbabwean nationals in SA under the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project which is set to expire in December.
These Zimbabweans will now have to apply for new permits which will expire in December 2017. After that date the holders of the special permit will be expected to apply for a normal permit or visa to extend their stay in SA.
Mr Gigaba told reporters in Pretoria on Thursday that 10 offices would be open throughout the country to interview applicants. The process would begin with an online application on the website run by VFS Global, the company subcontracted by home affairs to handle visa and permit applications.
“From the first of October people can apply online and not at a VFS office… the interviews will be adjudicated at our offices,” Mr Gigaba said.
He also said while the department was expecting long queues — as an estimated 245,000 Zimbabwean nationals would apply to have their special permits extended — the stored electronic information and home affairs’ improved document storage systems would mitigate delays.
The fee for the special permit is set at R870.
Mr Gigaba said this cost was fair, considering the price of permits of similar duration and the fact that applicants did not need to leave SA.
In 2009, Cabinet approved the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project, which was meant to:
- Regularise Zimbabweans residing in SA illegally;
- Curb the deportation of Zimbabweans who were in SA illegally;
- Reduce pressure on the asylum seeker and refugee regime, and
• Provide amnesty to Zimbabweans who obtained SA documents fraudulently