Bruce Whitfield: An open letter to Malusi Gigaba
- Tourism numbers to SA have dropped, and families faced with onerous documentation requirement may choose to go elsewhere.
- The regulations are a box-checking exercise.
- Time to bring the barriers down.
This is an earnest appeal for you to rescind regulations around additional documentation required for minors to travel to and from South Africa.
The drop in tourism arrivals reported this week is an indicator that we need to be doing more to encourage visitors to our country, not creating obstacles. Your visa regulations, sir, are an obstacle. More than 3.8 million people visited South Africa in April last year. That number dropped to 3.5 million in March this year. Sure, visa regulations will not be solely to blame – but having recently gone through the rigmarole of arranging an international holiday for my family, I would not be surprised if young families shun South Africa as a tourism destination.
I dropped my family at the airport last week. Three years after you introduced the rules around additional documents for minor travellers, there is still serious confusion as to what is required. My travel agent insisted my family travel with original, unabridged birth certificates, even though a friendly local commissioner of oaths had verified and stamped copies as being genuine. When we arrived at the airport check-in, the airline staff got into a heated debate about whether I could take the originals home with me and lock them up for safekeeping, because I really don’t want to have to bother you to re-issue them if they get lost or damaged.
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They couldn’t make up their minds, so my family is now travelling with both the originals and certified copies.
In fact, if those certificates do get lost, I wonder how my children will get home – because the airline won’t allow them to board in a foreign city, and I will have no way of making copies to send them.
The airline staff also demanded a letter of authority from me for my children to travel, even though I had gone through the process of getting the form you make available on your website to serve as affidavit, which I had signed and stamped by the same commissioner of oaths.
“They won’t really look at the documents at passport control, they expect us to do it,” said the airline employee.
What a ridiculous waste of time, Minister.
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Daily, I see the appeals to you personally via social media to intervene in real issues that require real attention: a mixture of the desperate and the disillusioned who, without necessary documents, can not function fully as members of society.
Not only is the additional documents requirement for younger travellers frivolous, in the three years since you imposed the regulations, thousands of tourists have been turned away from flights at international airports as travellers confused by the requirements have turned up without the required documentation. Countless others would have made alternative choices for their travel. Visa requirements are already an obstacle to human movement as South Africans know only too well, but for much of the world, free movement across borders is taken for granted.
At the time you introduced the new visa regulations, you were heavily criticised. My recollection is that a panel convened by then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa recommended that the requirements be rescinded. Forgive me if I have this wrong, but it’s the only logical conclusion they could have come to.
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When we applied for our children’s passports, home affairs regulations required both parents to be present with the child and that their ID documents be presented along with the child’s unabridged birth certificate.
It’s at that point that both parents have consented to a travel document being issued. While I accept there are families torn apart by warring spouses who move children across borders, and while the scourge of human trafficking must be earnestly combatted, please ask yourself whether forcing mostly law-abiding citizens to jump through a series of pointless hoops is productive.
Surely a far more productive and fool-proof mechanism would be to allow a parent, concerned that their partner was about to abscond with the kids, to have the minor passports frozen. That same mechanism could be used if a child happened to be kidnapped and their passport disappeared too and there was a fear they might be moved across borders.
What you have right now is a tick-box approach which is very easy to circumvent, should anyone wanting to take a child out the country choose to do so.
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It doesn’t take much to figure out that anyone intent on smuggling a child across an international border could simply forge the documents required.
A parent hell-bent on moving their children to another country without the knowledge of the other parent could simply forge their signature on an affidavit and present the documents at a police station to a disinterested police officer who in addition to their daily duties is expected to verify the nature of the documents presented to them. Not once have I been challenged by a police officer about the documents I have asked them to sign.
If I were a foreign traveller with a young family intent on exploring wonderful and diverse places, the last thing I would want to spend my time doing was participating in a mindless bureaucratic process which hinders rather than simplifies the already complex nature of international travel. I simply would not come to South Africa. Why bother?
The experts tell us about the wonderful multiplier effect of international tourism and how with every nine tourists arriving in the country, a job is created in the tourism industry. Despite the recent dip, I know tourism is growing over time.
I too have seen the stats.
Imagine how much more it could grow if you removed a wholly unnecessary barrier to visitors with young children. Already the long-haul nature of travel to South Africa puts off many who have got easier, cheaper and closer destinations to travel to.
Take down that barrier Mr Minister. Please.
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