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Government mute on tourist bannings, ignores urgent request for official statement

Government mute on tourist bannings, ignores urgent request for official statement
Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi. (Photo: Gallo Images / Frennie Shivambu) | Mireille Wenger. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

The Western Cape’s minister of finance and economic opportunities, Mireille Wenger, wrote to Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi two weeks ago requesting an official position on visa extensions. This was after immigration officers began banning tourists and even medical professionals from SA.

It’s been two weeks since the Western Cape’s department of finance and economic opportunities wrote to Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi about tourist bannings, and there’s been no response to provincial minister Mireille Wenger’s urgent request for an updated directive on short-term visa extensions. 

In that time, dozens of tourists, lawyers and immigration specialists have shared stories about property owners, swallows, foreign doctors on volunteer programmes and others being banned from South Africa because their visas had expired and the extensions were not granted in time.

Notwithstanding Motsoaledi’s comments during the Budget debate and assurances from Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille, the Border Management Authority (BMA) says statements made in Parliament are not equivalent to official policy, so their officials are under strict instructions to comply with a directive issued on 22 December 2023 in which the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) extended a temporary concession to deal with a backlog of waiver, visa and appeal applications.

This directive said that visitors in SA on a short-term visa (90 days or less) who had applied for a visa extension on or before 30 November 2023, and who had not received a renewal outcome by 23 February 2024, should leave South Africa by 29 February to avoid being declared undesirable.

Directive ‘misunderstood’

Following an outcry over reports about tourists opting to leave the country earlier to avoid being banned, Motsoaledi told Parliament during the Budget debate on 14 February: “(The) directive is clearly misunderstood by all and sundry. This was meant to be an internal memo, to guide new BMA officials at the ports of entry. Unfortunately, it even touched on issues that clearly needed no directive. We are being accused of chasing tourists out of South Africa…

“What is new here, is that a circular or directive has been issued to guide new BMA officials at ports of entry, but the directive ended up in the public arena. We concede that there was no need to advise anybody to leave the country on a particular day because such dates are already stipulated on the visa,” said Motsoaledi.

“The other clarity I have to make is that if you have applied for a visa extension and you have not yet received a response, the receipt you get as proof of your application serves as an extension of your visa until such time that you get the outcome of your application, positive or negative.

“No one should arrest you while you have such a receipt, and no one can declare you undesirable.”

This was the minister’s first response to the issue after almost three weeks of silence following a Daily Maverick report about the departmental directive to Border Management Authority officials.

De Lille’s assurance

On 15 February, De Lille expanded on the issue, telling SAfm that tourists who had already applied for visa extensions could stay in the country until they had received an outcome. Those who had yet to apply could also still do so. 

“So, the current position is that all the tourists who have applied for visa extensions, if they are in possession of a receipt that they have applied, it’s [the memo] not applicable to them.”

When Daily Maverick contacted Motsoaledi’s office for an official position on the matter, his spokesperson, Thabo Mokgola, insisted that what Motsoaledi had told Parliament during the Sona debate sufficed.

“Please refer to the minister’s speech during the Sona debate on the matter,” Mokgola said. When pressed further, he repeated: “The matter is being addressed in the speech.”

For more than a week, Daily Maverick tried to elicit a more detailed response from Home Affairs by emailing numerous officials, including Siyabulela Qaza, another media liaison, who failed to respond despite receiving four WhatsApp reminders and two emails.

De Lille’s office also failed to respond to fresh queries, but previously insisted they were working with Home Affairs to streamline the visa process.

“Where there are issues, Minister De Lille works with Minister Motsoaledi to resolve this,” her spokesperson Zara Nicholson said.

Lost in translation

Mireille Wenger, meanwhile, wrote to Motsoaledi on 1 March requesting that his office issue the updated, official directive to guide Border Management Authority officials.

Referring to his speech to Parliament, Wenger said: “Alarmingly, the explanations and undertakings given in this speech appear not to have been communicated to the Border Management Officials and other Home Affairs officials at ports of entry and exit to South Africa. 

“While the 21 December 2023 internal circular is available on the DHA website, the clarification [that if a person applied for a visa extension and has not yet received a response, the receipt of proof of application serves as an extension of the visa until such time that the outcome of the application is made known], is not available on the Home Affairs website. 

“I am aware of reports of officials not accepting the transcripts or prints of your speech as proof of the official position, and appear to have not received any formal instruction or directive to continue other than in terms of the 21 December 2023 directive. 

“BMA officials have been adamant that they act in accordance with official, written directives only,” said Wenger in her letter.

As a result, tourists were being turned away, denied entry or forced to leave the country early — some have even been declared “undesirable”. 

Complaints

“My office has received numerous complaints to this effect, as well as the continued confusion surrounding this matter,” Wenger’s letter to Motsoaledi continued. 

“Please can you urgently provide me with the official statement, notice, directive or any variation thereof, in terms of which relevant officials are unequivocally told what the current position is, and specifically that short-term visa holders with the requisite applications underway cannot be denied entry or declared ‘undesirable’, to assist in its communication to avoid further distress for visitors.”

Some of the complaints received by Wenger have also been shared with Daily Maverick

Immigration consultant and lawyer Peter Jones said a client departing South Africa was at first told at the airport that as long as he had a renewal receipt from visa facilitation company VFS Global, he wouldn’t be banned. 

“He had a very tense encounter with the BMA. He is a German citizen and owns a property in SA. He’s here on a visitor’s visa, has applied for an extension and owns property in SA which he is presently renovating, so cannot receive a ban as he must come back soon to supervise the renovations.

“They didn’t ban him but said they should have as he had overstayed his visa (visa expired on 24 February). From this interaction, he said he wasn’t sure if they didn’t ban him because of his particular situation or because of the statements made by the minister.”

Another tourist, who had gone through the laborious and expensive Health Professions Council registration to work for free in South Africa as a medical volunteer, said he had come to Cape Town with his girlfriend to volunteer at Mitchell’s Plain Hospital as emergency medicine doctors. 

They had applied for short-term visas because the volunteer visa took too long to be issued.

Dr Luke Rothwell said that within a week of arriving, they applied for the visa extensions and handed in their applications together.

His girlfriend received a response three weeks later, but with the wrong dates. His was pending, but he was assured that if he presented his VFS Global receipt to immigration, that would suffice.

“Unfortunately, when I left South Africa, the immigration official stated that these visa extensions were no longer offered and I have been banned for five years.

“I was in Cape Town as a volunteer. I am an emergency medicine doctor in England, halfway through my training to become a consultant. My girlfriend and I were both part of a scheme where doctors from England work for free in order to learn and share skills with South African healthcare professionals. We were on full-time rotas, often in the hospital for up to seven days a week and worked every other weekend.”

In the past, British doctors have always been able to get the visa extension, but Rothwell said the current situation was putting off many British doctors who are willing to work in the public healthcare system for free.

“I loved my time in Cape Town, however, as you can imagine, being declared an undesirable for five years left a really bitter taste in my mouth. To be registered with the South African health board was expensive and difficult and again was full of bureaucracy. 

“I’ve tried to appeal my undesirable status but none of the numbers online seem to work.” DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Debbie Brain says:

    Quite stunning that Motsoaledi and De Lille have no apologies to offer for the abrupt treatment of visitors applying legally and being treated as illegals…
    There has always been places in our democracy for dirty business to be flung all over citizens and it shows even if bad grammar read it….it’s a deliberate and arrogant show of the homicidal nature of the existing governance ….packets of crooks must exist where there are pockets of enmity for nothing.
    Of course Parliament couldn’t exuperate a flea making their dismal incoherent row time after time, not for any good cause..

  • David C says:

    How is it possible that the DHA can get the administration right to declare someone undesirable and ban them for 5 years, but can’t get the Visa extension adminsitration right? Quite clearly another of the ANC’s ideologically, racially, politically motivated plans to hamper the widening gulf between a competently run province and the ANC-befouled cess-pit that is the rest of SA.

    • virginia crawford says:

      It’s simple – they haul you into an office, fill out a form that says you are banned! Most people wouldn’t take the chance of returning, I presume. It happened to my partner in 2015 for a one day overstay on a tourist visa- couldn’t get an extension and were told if would be “ok”. Yet foreign criminal syndicates function with ease.

    • D Rod says:

      DHA can not organise a piss-up in a brewery. It took me 9 (nine) times to go to various offices in Gauteng to renew my passport. From “loadshedding”, “system offline”, “no water”, “must be a problem, but supervisor is out” etc. In total, probably about 20 hours including travel. In a normal country, it takes about 20 minutes (I know, because, thank God, I have another passport)

  • Craig A says:

    Why is a private company give the job of issuing visas and residency permits etc? I recall reading that VFS Global has ties to the Guptas. Another one of their corrupt enterprises?
    It is hard to believe we make tourists and professional people feel so unwelcome. They come here and spend their foreign currency but we chase them away.

    VIVA! A better life for some.

    • Michael Thomlinson says:

      A private company (shell company) is given the job because , I bet, a cadre, somewhere in the system, is making a fortune out of this and then backhanding the politcians involved. So nobody is worried about the end results. Don’t forget an election is coming up and the ANC must be seen to be doing someting about all the foreign nationals taking jobs fron local people. So Stupid directives are supposedly taking care of this but at the same time reducing the flow of money into the country. But hey, are our fatcat polticians worried about that? Of course not.

  • Lynda Tyrer says:

    There is a saying that seems to fit the HA and Tourist dept they dont know their ….. from their elbow, the utter shambles these two departments have created and how utterly shortsightedly stupid the idea is to chase away tourist who are bringing money into the economy. I keep thinking is this for real or are we all living in the twilight zone, hardly one good decision has been made by the anc, chasing away tourists , destroying local industries, chasing away valuable skills, but for some reason the anc are deaf, dumb and blind to the fact.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    As The WC is South Africa’s premier destination for tourists, swallows and Medical facilities, it makes sense that a political party that is not the DA would want to upset the equilibrium. All this shows is small minded uneducated arrogance and politicians who have no real interest in making lives better for those trying to make a better life for themselves and their families- chefs, restaurant staff, Uber drivers, domestic staff, nursing staff and carers, tour guides, hotel staff…the list of those depending on “outsiders” for a decent living is endless. What a tragedy that desire for personal power of a few undermines the lives of so many.

  • Peter Fischbach says:

    Being in the same situation as the German citizen mentioned in the article, I understand the concern and fear of being banned. If tourist visas were issued for 6 months instead of 3 – wouldn’t that be the easiest solution of all to take the weight off DHA and BMA?

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Begs the question, is there any intelligent life in Government? Or are they ALL just walking-dead zombies ….

  • Alan Watkins says:

    When I read the first reports of visas not being renewed and threats of banning, I thought this was how it was going to end, notwithstanding the statements from Motsoaledi and DeLille. If these guys can possibly eff up something they will.

  • Dragon Slayer says:

    Typical ANC behavior – If we can’t benefit personally or collectively – burn it to the ground. It is only going to get worse as the election approach. Imaging the scorched earth response if the ANC gets trounced. 😱

  • Brian Dutlow says:

    It appears that this government is adamant on flying the flag of incompetence. It is apparent that the only way to address the ruling party government It through urgent court action. What seems also necessary Is to launch lawsuits against this paralyzed Minister.

  • Miss Jellybean says:

    This idiot managed to make the health department totally non functional and all he has done since taking over at home affairs is to make a dysfunctional department even worse. The ego on this man reviles that of both Putin & Boris Johnson, he will not admit in 100 billion years to ever being in the wrong. (yes I am being kind calling him an idiot but what I really want to call him will get my comment disqualified)

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