Joahnnesburg - I wonder if we haven’t seconded some of our South African government officials and politicians (who often act with emotion, not logic) to Nairobi, following the Kenyan government’s amazing decision to impose tough new visa restrictions on visitors from South Africa.
Now, if you want to visit Kenya and you are a South Africa passport holder, you have to present yourself in person at the embassy in Pretoria for biometric identification processes and pay $70 (R740). Previously, you could buy a tourist visa on arrival in Nairobi.
You would think that a country whose tourism industry is in dire straits because of the very real threat of al-Shabaab terrorism would want to make it as easy as possible for visitors to come and spend money. And South Africans, although we can be “bangbroeke” when it comes to travelling, are generally more adventurous and less put off by terror threats than people from Europe, for example.
Already, Kenya is a comparatively expensive destination for South Africans. The harsh reality is that while Kenya does have amazing wildlife and amazing beaches… so do we. And we don’t need air tickets or visas to experience them.
But I suppose you can argue that the tit-for-tat measure by Nairobi is justified because South Africa has just imposed similar, and tough, visa requirements for a range of foreign visitors (but most of them from Africa).
That measure, intended to clamp down on illegal immigrants and those overstaying their welcome, may have been motivated by good intentions, but it will also damage our tourist industry.
At a time when we should be reaching out to emerging global markets like China, we are making it ever more difficult for them to get here: any prospective visitor from outside Beijing and Shanghai will have to make a personal appearance at our consulates in those cities first.
That alone may be enough to deter thousands of visitors.
Talking about Chinese visitors, I saw a little snippet last week which will gladden the hearts of those queueing and paying thousands of rand for British visas: if you are a Chinese tourist or business person, the Brits will give you a visa within 24 hours.
What Her Majesty’s civil servants are less forthcoming about is that, under European law, they are obliged to issue an EEA (European Economic Area) permit to any family member or dependant of a European passport holder travelling to the UK. And for free, nada, niks, gratis. That is something a colleague of mine found out to her cost after she (an Irish passport holder) got UK visas for her two children (at a shade under R3 000), when she should have paid nothing. The reciprocal arrangement applies, so I understand, to family and dependants of British passport holders wanting to travel to Europe and who might otherwise have to get a full Schengen visa.
Schengen visas are, of course, a particularly sore point: I get plenty of complaints from readers that the process is difficult, it is expensive and that the validity of visas has been reduced in some cases.
Some have even gone as far as arguing that South Africans should boycott Schengen countries until travel restrictions are eased.
Sadly, that’s not going to happen – and nor is it with the UK – because we need them (to take in their culture, their history, their food and even just to visit relatives) more than they need our comparatively tiny tourism revenue.
Visa requirements have added huge additional stress to travel – and, in some cases, have turned what should have been a memorable and pleasant experience into a nightmare. A reader wrote last week of how she and her husband had to miss out on a R60 000 Canadian cruise (non-refundable) because they were required to have a Canadian visa for a six-hour port stop (for which they would not even leave the ship)… and which would not have been ready in time.
Then, another reader phoned with the story of a relative of hers who is in her ’80s and cannot get a visa to visit children abroad because the visa regulations require proof of medical insurance (understandably so) – and travel insurance is not available for those over 85.
Families, too, may have to cancel or amend their travelling plans, because South Africa now requires that, from September 1, all those leaving or entering South Africa accompanied by children need to have copies of the full, unabridged, birth certificates of those children. Given that it takes between three and six months to get such documents out of the Department of Home Affairs here, that’s another nightmare.