South African Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor made a statement in Parliament in May that has South Africans divided and Brits feeling a little anxious.
“We had been given a promise that following the (London) Olympics, there would be a focus on whether this visa requirement can be lifted. There hasn’t been any movement and I think the time has come for us to consider reciprocity.”
The statement was apparently borne out of frustration caused by the UK government’s reluctance to lift visa requirements for South Africans, despite recent talks hinting at doing just that. It also comes just weeks after a diplomatic row erupted when Britain announced it would cut its £19m annual development aid to South Africa.
South Africa’s visa-free status was revoked in 2009 amid concerns about corruption within the South African home affairs department and the apparent ease with which foreign nationals could get South African passports. (A British court heard that at least 6 000 illegal Asian immigrants had been smuggled into the UK on South African passports.)
Thousands of South Africans were suddenly forced to pay around R1000 for a short-term visa, whether visiting friends and family or doing business in the UK. It has also caused bureaucratic issues for South African businessmen, officials and diplomats.
But recently, the South Africa government hinted at the possibility of the ban being lifted, after efforts to “clean up its act”.
The South African government said that internal corruption has been eradicated and that stricter measures had been taken to clean up the national population register and redesign the security features of South African passports.
But it seems the UK is not budging and Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor might consider a “tit for tat” visa strategy, whereby Brits would be forced to obtain a visa to enter South Africa.
Opinions are split as to whether or not this is a good idea, with some saying the country could use the extra income and others warning that the visa could deter Brits from visiting South Africa, with catastrophic effects.
Tourism expert Martin van Niekerk told Beeld newspaper that the move was short-sighted and could negatively affect the country’s economy, as Britain was South Africa’s largest tourist market.
Beeld also reported that Prof Sanette Ferreira, of Stellenbosch University’s geography and environmental studies department, added that complex logistics with visa applications would probably deter British visitors. She added that SA didn’t have the capacity for a complex system and was already struggling to produce ID books.