Unabridged confusion on visas, still
Three years ago, in his first stint as home affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba announced visa regulations that required minors leaving and entering SA to carry documentation proving parental consent for travel, in the form of an unabridged birth certificate. This draconian requirement was supposedly implemented to combat child-trafficking. The tourism industry warned that this onerous requirement would scare off foreign travellers accompanied by children other than their own, and would add an unnecessary administrative burden on South Africans going on holiday or business abroad with minor children. Drunk with power at the time, Gigaba dismissed the warning and ignored sage advice that tighter law enforcement, rather than an additional bureaucratic hurdle for potential tourists, would be a better deterrent to child-trafficking.
Now, with egg on his face, he has been forced to backtrack by the cabinet. But instead of providing clarity on the new requirements, he caused further confusion by declaring that though it is no longer a requirement for minor children travelling to SA to carry such documentation, his department advises them to continue doing so because immigration officials could ask for these in “exceptional” cases.
Gigaba’s counterpart at tourism, Derek Hanekom, who opposed the visa regulations when they were introduced, says the revised regulations are a victory for the tourism sector. But representatives of the sector are not entirely happy that foreign travellers with minor kids are still being advised to carry extra travel documents in case immigration officials ask for these. They also want the relaxations to apply to South Africans travelling abroad. SA welcomes 10-million visitors every year. The change in policy is a step in the right direction, but confusion still remains. Will tourists arriving without unabridged birth certificates be turned away if immigration officials ask for such documentation?
If the country is to maintain its status as one of the top travel destinations in the world, the people in charge have to communicate with a lot more clarity. Our depressed, jobs-shy economy needs foreign tourism. For now, the tourists are choosing destinations that don’t turn a holiday into an administrative nightmare.