SA visa hurdle hurting Kigali
MORE THAN two months after South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that “visa restrictions against Rwandans travelling to South Africa should be considered solved,” that is yet to happen.
The only Rwandans who can travel to South Africa visa-free are holders of diplomatic and service passports.
President Ramaphosa, while attending the March 21 African Union Heads of State Summit announced he was working with his Rwandan counterpart to put relations between Pretoria and Kigali on better footing.
“Our ministers of international relations and cooperation are going to work on this immediately, bring us solutions and President Kagame and I are going to sign off on it,” he said.
That has not happened yet as visa inquiries at the South African High Commission in Kigali show.
Ever since Pretoria slapped the visa restrictions, Rwandan businesses have felt the consequences most.
“When tensions between the two countries worsened, and South Africa stopped issuing visas to ordinary Rwandans altogether in 2014, our business people, especially importers have lost out on the many opportunities that free travel presents,” said Deus Kayitakirwa, chief advocacy officer at the Rwanda Private Sector Federation.
Recall of envoys
He listed goods and services in which Rwandan businesses used to deal including importation of South African construction materials (like roofing, window panes, paints), and consumer goods like wines, fruit, tinned meat and all kinds of processed foods, clothing, and others, not forgetting travel to conferences or meetings.
“As a result, you can be certain local business operators have incurred losses that one can count in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the four years since the government of South Africa stopped issuing visas to Rwandans,” he said.
“We just pray that decision makers in both countries resolve this issue soon,” Mr Kayitakirwa added.
The government of former President Jacob Zuma imposed the travel restrictions on Rwandans following a bitter war of words between Pretoria and Kigali, leading to diplomatic tensions that included recalling of respective ambassadors and expulsions of embassy staff.
Rwanda alleged that South Africa was playing host to exiles, including former highranking officers of the Rwandan military who had sought asylum in SA, and who Kigali said were using the country as a base “for anti-rwanda activities.”
After a couple of assassination attempts on Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former head of the Rwandan military, and the murder of Patrick Karegeya, who was a former chief of Rwanda’s spy agency, diplomatic relations reached their nadir, and soon thereafter, Pretoria implemented the visa restrictions.
I am optimistic; in fact, I am sure that (the visa issue) will be resolved. I cannot give a timeline, but it will be soon.” Nkosinathi Twala, South Africa’s High Commissioner to Rwanda