South Africa

Right of response: No about-turn, defeats or victories on visa regulations

By Mayihlome Tshwete 27 October 2015

There is no 'about-turn' or 'reversed' decision on visa regulations on the part of the Cabinet. Nor has there been the defeat of any minister, or victory of another. The immigration law as made by Parliament, as the legislative body, remains in force. Adjustments and mitigating factors are being put in place in the immediate to long term, to make it easier for people to comply with the law. Stephen Grootes conflates and confuses issues around this important matter. By MAYIHLOME TSHWETE.

I read with interest Stephen Grootes’s piece on the visa regulations and found his level of analysis greatly shocking, especially the euphoria, subliminal self-praise and scant regard for facts. It is at best a disjointed catalogue of personal attacks under the guise of objective analysis.

Naturally, I did call the author to ask why he did not at least speak to us on the recommendations of the inter-ministerial committee on the immigration regulations. His response? “It was an opinion piece!” I’m not sure it’s going too far to say this implies the self-serving diatribe is not dependent on factual accuracies.

The headline, ‘Malusi Gigaba’s unabridged loss is South Africa’s victory’, reflects some pedestrian understanding of governance, law making and the implications thereof. This had nothing to do with personal desires but was in the interest of the country and children. Grootes ignores the fact that South Africa’s Children’s Act as well as the immigration amendment acts and regulations predate Malusi Gigaba’s deployment to the Department of Home Affairs.

It’s equally incorrect to say “missing from his rhetoric was any hint of reasonableness, or link to reality”. Since he came into office, the minister has had a series of stakeholder engagements, and with the director-general had insisted on the need for input from various stakeholders. It was a result of those discussions, for instance, that the implementation of child-specific travel requirements was delayed until June this year.

Perhaps we should rather address the specifics of the recommendations, honestly and rationally, so that we don’t confuse travellers and citizens with prolonged childish personal attacks that would do no good for anybody.

It can’t be right to say that “almost all of the new regulations were being dropped”. Child-travel requirements for outbound travel still apply, including proof of parental relations through unabridged birth certificates, and, as necessary, parental consent. For inbound travel where visas are required, original birth certificates and parental consent or certified copies will be submitted during the visa application process. Requirements for unaccompanied minors also remain, including copies of identity documents or valid passports and visas or permanent residence permits of persons receiving unaccompanied minors.

One of the adjustments making it easier for travellers is that in countries where there is no South African mission, Home Affairs will receive visa applications by post and capture biometrics on arrival at ports of entry. It is correct that for visa-exempt countries a strong advisory will be issued. However, travellers would be advised to have proof of relationship and consent from the absent parent/s or guardian/s, in case they are asked to provide such on arrival.

Nothing “is being quietly dropped” as alleged. The Cabinet has mandated Home Affairs to put in place the necessary legal instruments to help demonstrate proof of relationship. The status quo will remain until such time that the department has provided this legal instrument.

I don’t know what Grootes means when he says in respect of the unabridged birth certificate, “the wording around the document will be changed”. What will change is the name – to birth certificate. The content remains the same. It is for clarity. The importance of the document phased in from March 2013 is that it provides both the personal details of the child and those of the parents, so that it is possible with certainty to establish parental relations.

There’s no “about-turn” or “reversed” decision on the part of the Cabinet, or defeat of any minister, or victory of another. The immigration law as made by Parliament, as the legislative body, remains in force. Adjustments and mitigating factors are being put in place in the immediate to long term, to make it easier for people to comply with the law. Grootes conflates and confuses issues around this important matter.

With the regulations coming into effect only in 2014 when there had already been concerns raised about the fluctuations in our tourism figures, it is disingenuous to say “the damage to our economy was plain and visible for all to see”. Grootes should tell us why there was a drop in tourism figures before the new regulations took effect. Not only in South Africa, but elsewhere in the world, tourism has taken some knocks over time.

But we have come to understand that facts are not as important as how some “analysts” feel about something. Grootes feels that children requiring the permission of their parents to travel is bad tourism, he feels it’s insane for South Africa to want to know who visits it by obtaining biometrics, never mind that other countries do this, never mind that the US has five points of application compared to South Africa’s four in China. Grootes doesn’t care that South Africans subject themselves to similar requirements when they travel to the US or Europe, what he feels is that it’s too much for an African country to expect such.

Indeed the government is committed to listening to the needs and concerns of the people. And thus, among other things, it has been agreed that to address problems around the geographical spread of countries like China, India and Russia, measures will be put in place to ease the process of applying for a visa, particularly for tourists.

The tourism industry and other stakeholders generally welcomed the Cabinet’s announcement with maturity, and not triumphalism, mindful of national priorities including economic interests. Nobody has lost. The challenge going forward is to make the new visa regime work for the country, and, in the broader scheme of things, for the region and continent as a whole. DM

Mayihlome Tshwete is head of communications and spokesperson for the home affairs minister.

Photo of Minister Malusi Gigaba by Reuters.

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