State may ask UK tourists for visas

2013-05-19 14:00

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Following ‘failed’ talks, Pretoria considers playing tit-for-tat with London.

Frustrated by Britain’s apparent reluctance to lift its visa requirements for South Africans, government is considering playing tit-for-tat and demanding the same from UK visitors.

This comes against the backdrop of the British government’s decision to halt development aid to South Africa worth £19?million (R271?million) from 2015.

Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor told MPs that there had been “no movement” after talks between the two nations.

“We had been given a promise that following the (London) Olympics, there would be a focus on whether this visa requirement can be lifted.

“There hasn’t been any movement and I think the time has come for us to consider reciprocity.”

Pandor was responding in a debate on her department’s budget vote in Parliament.

South Africa’s visa-free status was revoked in 2009 amid concerns about corruption within Home Affairs and the ease with which foreign nationals could get South African passports.

The change affected thousands of South Africans suddenly confronted with steep fees to obtain visas to visit friends and family, and to do business, in the UK.

Diplomatic and official passport holders also have to apply for visas, making for cumbersome administration ahead of government visits.

It costs about R1?180 for a short-term visitor’s visa for the UK.

In the wake of the new visa regime being implemented, Home Affairs redesigned the South African passport with new security features and introduced a more stringent issuing process.

Home Affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni claimed in February that the South African passport “cannot be forged”.

Gary Benham, the head of communications at the British High Commission in Pretoria, told City Press that there had been “dialogue with the South African authorities since 2009”, and that this was continuing.

“The issue was not so much whether or not the passport could be forged. It was more about people entering Britain on South African passports when they themselves were not South African citizens.

“There are concerns that South African passports are available to people who are not entitled to them.”

If government decides to implement a reciprocal visa regime, UK visitors – including government officials and diplomats – would have to apply for visas.

The UK is South Africa’s biggest overseas tourism market, and growing.

Figures announced by President Jacob Zuma last month put the number of UK tourists who visited South Africa last year at 438?023, a 4.2% increase from 2011.

Tourism’s contribution to South Africa’s gross domestic product increased by 5% to R84.3?billion in 2011, boosting employment with the creation of 31?000 direct jobs, according to Stats SA.

There are nearly 600?000 jobs in the sector in total.

Finance minister Pravin Gordhan described the manner in which Britain decided to end aid to South Africa as “regrettable”.

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