German travel ban South Africa
(Getty Images)
  • Germany, like many other countries around the world, has prohibited entry for travellers from South Africa.
  • But unlike the United Kingdom and United States, Germany’s restrictions are particularly harsh, with few exemptions pertaining to work, study or engaged couples.
  • A group of frustrated South Africans have banded together to challenge the ban and say the South African government isn’t fighting hard enough.
  • But the Department of International Relations and Cooperation says it is equally concerned about the ongoing ban and is engaged with the German government to reach an end to the impasse.
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Germany’s ban on travel from South Africa was first implemented six months ago and while similar restrictions in other countries offer exemptions to unmarried partners, students and workers, the European nation’s sanction is especially strict.

South Africa is one of 11 countries currently listed as an “area of variants of concern” by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) which is responsible for disease control and prevention in Germany. South Africa was designated as a virus variant region in mid-January, less than a month after the discovery of the Delta variant was first announced.

Germany wasn’t the only country to respond swiftly to the emergence of Beta – a more transmissible mutation of Covid-19 which was first detected in the Eastern Cape – and followed the lead of the United Kingdom (UK) which promptly closed its borders to South Africa in December. By March, South African travellers had become the most restricted in the world, facing outright bans and mandatory quarantine measures in more than 100 countries.

Germany has long been one of South Africa’s key source markets in Europe, with travel volumes between the two countries holding firm prior to the pandemic. The suspension of travel and limits on exemptions offered to South Africans has left many stranded and frustrated.

“On 9 August, Germany did, in fact, open up its borders to ‘unmarried partners’ due to a European Union (EU) parliament decision,” Kelly Dido, who is petitioning to have the travel regulations relaxed, tells Business Insider South Africa.

“So, when SA opened its borders, we South Africans could finally enjoy this privilege…obviously quarantining and staying safe. However, on 30 January 2021, Germany removed the ability for reunification, work, studies to obtain a 90-day Schengen visa due to SA being classified as a Virus Variant (VV) area.”

Of all the countries identified as VV risks, South Africa has remained on the banned list for the longest period. And while the UK permits travel for a host of work-related and study reasons, Germany’s ban is merciless, says Dido. The United States (US), which also implemented a ban on South African travellers in January, has continued to update a list of National Interest Exceptions (NIE) allowing entry to workers, students, and fiancé(e)s of nationals. The US is still issuing visas for those identified who meet the NIE criteria.

But Germany is much harsher. Only German citizens and residents are exempt from the outright ban. Unmarried partners can apply for an exemption but need to offer a “compelling reason” and must enter Germany at the same time. For many couples divided for the ban, this exception has been of little benefit.

“We continue to receive no word from the officials about when these restrictions can be lifted or when visa applications can be processed again,” adds Dido, who earned a job offer to work in Germany three months ago but has been unable to start work abroad due to the ongoing ban.

“I've given up my job, my apartment, my livelihood for this move to Germany. I now have none left – only a depleting savings account.”

Dido’s frustrations are echoed among other workers, students, and couples who have been unable to enter or return to Germany because of the protracted ban. Worse still, is that there is no end in sight. The German government had previously offered regular updates and timelines associated with the restrictions but recently noted that the ban would be “extended until further notice”.

“My national visa for entering, marrying, and staying in Germany is approved but will not be issued until the travel ban is lifted,” says Edward Madidimalo, who is engaged to Alina Nolte from Germany. The couple’s wedding had been planned for May.

“The travel ban is putting a hold on our life. I obviously already cancelled everything in South Africa, as I am about to start a new life with my fiancé in Germany.”

“You can apply for a visa and get it approved but the embassy refuses point blank to print it and put it in your passport and give it to you,” adds Dylan Webb, who is dating a German citizen and was provisionally accepted as a vocational trainee during his last visit to the country.

“It doesn't matter if you are willing and able to quarantine or if you have work or school to attend. You are not allowed to travel to Germany as a South African citizen based on the grounds of SA having the Beta variant.”

It’s this contention surrounding different Covid-19 variants which has aimed more criticism at the German government. Germany lifted the VV ban on India – alongside Nepal, Russia, Portugal and the UK – where the Delta variant first emerged.

Where Beta is 25% more transmissible compared to original lineage, the Delta is 97% more transmissible than the original lineage, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases of South Africa(NICD).

“The reason for this downgrade is since these countries are Delta dominant. Nothing changed for South Africa – although we are now Delta dominant too,” adds Dido, citing data by the Network for Genomic Surveillance which showed Delta as the driving force behind the third wave of infections.

Dr Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist, agrees with Dido and adds that there is “no real reason for South Africa to be singled out, based on the Beta variant, because like most countries in the world we are now seeing the dominance of the Delta variant.”

“We feel that we are being discriminated against. Even with all the evidence, still, South Africa has not been downgraded yet,” says Dido.

“Unlike the UK, India and Portugal, the South African government has not tried to make any significant diplomatic negotiation with the German government to see that the ban is at least relaxed.”

But the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) argues that they have been in constant engagement with the German government to resolve the impasse and that some progress is being made.

“Dirco has been working on this [and] our ambassador Stone Sizani has been engaging the Germans regularly on this matter and there are ongoing engagements with them to raise the exact same concerns that they [Dido and others affected by the ban] are raising because we are equally concerned,” Dirco Spokesperson Clayson Monyela tells Business Insider SA.

“There is progress… but it is a matter that is still being discussed.”

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