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.