Sunday Times

Unabridged con­fu­sion on visas, still

- Travel · Law · Law Enforcement · Malusi Gigaba · Derek Hanekom

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.

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