SA visa hur­dle hurt­ing Ki­gali

The East African - - NEWS - By SHYAKA KANUMA Spe­cial Cor­re­spon­dent

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

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