Lukanyo Mnyanda.
Lukanyo Mnyanda.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

It’s been more than four months since President Cyril Ramaphosa sparked some optimism that the visa restrictions that hit the country’s tourism industry — one of the few bright spots as far as job creation is concerned — might be on the way out.

Ramaphosa’s remarks were delivered as part of his economic-stimulus plan, which seemed to signal a sense of urgency to boost a sector that employs more people than mining and utilities put together. Admittedly, optimism from the likes of hoteliers and airlines, who had warned of the destructive impact of the regulations when they were introduced in 2014, proved rather muted. Rightly so, it turned out.

Only a few days after Ramaphosa promised to amend regulations on travel with minors, including the requirement to carry unabridged birth certificates, then home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba made it clear that he’d prefer a fudge. Rather than abolishing rules that are yet to be shown to have prevented a single case of child trafficking, he added another layer of confusion. Gigaba is gone, but anecdotal evidence from what is normally our busiest tourism period is that confusion still reigns — among travellers, airlines, and even immigration officials.

It shouldn’t be a shock. Take the December 2018 Home Affairs advisory note on “travelling with non-South African children from visa-exempt countries”. That list has expanded in recent years, but it’s traditionally been dominated by the markets of western Europe and North America — our biggest source of tourists.

It’s hard to think of anything more ridiculous than a minister using social media to explain policy to the people who are supposed to be implementing it

The good news, dear tourist, is that you are no longer required to carry these documents. But you are “strongly advised” to have them anyway in case our officials ask for them. And if you don’t carry them and someone insists that you represent an undefined “high risk” situation, where they are required? Good luck.

The message from tourism minister Derek Hanekom, delivered to Home Affairs officials via Twitter, was slightly different. In a case of two parents travelling with children who have their own passports, there’s no additional documentation needed, while any parent or adult travelling alone with a child may be required to prove their relationship with such a minor. It’s hard to think of anything more ridiculous than a minister using social media to explain policy to the people who are supposed to be implementing it.

Perhaps he could try talking directly to the home affairs minister next time. Or even better, the president. Preferably before he delivers his next state of the nation speech. If the regulations are not gone by then, Ramaphosa could copy and paste the line from the 2018 version where he promised to reduce “regulatory barriers” to tourism. If we are lucky, he might actually deliver by the 2019/20 festive period.

• Mnyanda is the editor of Business Day. And a dad, who’s had enough of Home Affairs messing with his family trips.

- From the February edition of Wanted 2019.

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