South Africa border home affairs
FICKSBURG, SOUTH AFRICA MAY 28: Vendors selling at the Ficksburg Border Post on May 28, 2015 in Ficksburg, South Africa. Ficksburg Bridge experiences a high volume of Lesotho nationals crossing the border daily. Police say they arrest at least five people a day who try to cross the border illegally. (Photo by Gallo images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele)
  • South Africa’s 20 land borders are due to be closed until 15 February, with exceptions for freight, returning residents, and school commuters.
  • Foreigners who aren’t automatically exempt, can still apply for an “emergency” exemption by emailing the department of home affairs.
  • But on Thursday, new regulations made it clear that applications must be made a week before the intended travel.
  • The application needs to contain a copy of the traveller’s passport, a letter of motivation, proof of accommodation and must be submitted seven working days before the intended date of entry.
  • A previous special dispensation system didn't work too well.
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Foreigners hoping to enter South Africa through one of the country’s 20 land borders can apply for an “emergency exemption” by emailing the department of home affairs, it has confirmed, avoiding the closure of those ports to all but limited users under the latest Alert Level 3 rules.

But these emergency travel applications must be submitted at least seven working days before the intended date of entry, directions published on Thursday say.

Also on Thursday, Lesotho closed its only airport with regular scheduled service, effectively closing the country off from anyone who does not fall within an automatically exempted group, or who does not have emergency permission.

See also | Lesotho is now effectively sealed off from South Africa, after it closes Maseru airport

Following weeks of congestion, processing delays, limited social distancing and hundreds of coronavirus cases registered at South Africa’s busiest land borders, the government said only a few officials would be available to process travellers who are exempt from the closures.

These exemptions, gazetted on Monday, apply to people transporting cargo, seeking emergency medical treatment, attending the funeral of a close relative, or who are daily commuters attending school in South Africa.

Additionally, South African nationals – or those with residence, work, or business visas – will be allowed to return and leave to go to place of employment outside the country.

Under the current regulations, foreign nationals can leave South Africa but cannot enter, unless permitted within the list of exemptions or upon lodging a successful emergency application with the department of home affairs.

“If [there are] people who don’t fall into any of the categories I’ve mentioned, but they believe their case [for travel] is worth considering, they will then apply to the minister of home affairs for exemption,” said home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who expanded on the issue of border closures during a media briefing on Tuesday.

All emergency applications must be emailed to, at least seven working days before the intended date of entry, with the following supporting documents and information:

  • A copy of the traveller’s passport and temporary residence visa
  • A letter of motivation which supports and demonstrates emergency circumstances (reason for travel into South Africa)
  • The number of days of the intended stay (the amount of time that will be spent in South Africa)
  • The name of the land port of entry intended to be used
  • Proof of accommodation or proof of residence (explaining where the incoming traveller will be staying in South Africa)

Foreigners hoping to enter South Africa through this “emergency exemption” process will still be subjected to ongoing Covid-19 protocols, which require that all travellers provide a negative PCR test certificate obtained within 72 hours of their intended entry.

Motsoaledi added that all applications would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. 

An email application system, developed by home affairs to authorise travel requests when South Africa reopened its borders after months of hard lockdown in October, was quickly overwhelmed. This led to dire delays and a complete communication breakdown.

Tourism Business Council of South Africa Chief Executive Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa noted that over 10,000 emails had gone unanswered by the department. The email system was revoked just two weeks later.

South Africa’s land borders will be closed until at least 15 February 2021.

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