SA to keep the lid on visitors from Nigeria

2013-05-12 14:00

Goodluck Jonathan is pushing hard to do away with visas, but Zuma is unlikely to budge.

South Africa is unlikely to lift ­travel restrictions for Nigerian ­citizens in the near future, even though the west African country wants visas to be waived for ­nationals of the continent’s two most powerful economies.

City Press understands Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, in his talks with President Jacob Zuma, has been pushing hard for visas to be removed as a requirement for citizens to travel between the two countries.

Jonathan visited South Africa this week in what is seen as the thawing of frosty relations between the two countries following last year’s deportation of 56 South African businesspeople from ­Nigeria in a quid pro quo for the deportation of 125 Nigerian travellers from South Africa who were found to have invalid yellow fever certificates.

Zuma has also visited Abuja in a bid to strengthen diplomatic ­relations.

South Africa’s Home Affairs ministerial spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, confirmed that the two countries had only agreed this week to waive visas for diplomatic and official passport holders.

But he said the rest of their ­respective citizens would still have to go through the normal travel ­restrictions.

Trade between the two countries is worth R36?billion and the 2011 census figures show there are 24?000 Nigerian nationals who live in South Africa.

Kayode Oguntuase, the minister of trade and industry at the ­Nigerian High Commission to South Africa, said the visa issue had been raised by Nigerian businesspeople who often find it difficult to obtain visas from the South African High Commission, while their South African counterparts did not encounter similar hurdles.

“Business (between the two countries) is going well and ­improving. We want it to be higher than that. We want relations to move from government to government, to people to people,” said Oguntuase.

Obed Bapela, the deputy minister in the presidency for monitoring and evaluation and the ANC’s international relations head, said the request for the removal of visas was a matter still under discussion between Zuma and Jonathan, and the South African government was hesitant because information technology systems between the two countries were not compatible. Nigeria, which has a population of 167?million, does not yet have a population register.

Bapela said: “We know who is who in our population because we have a census that we keep updating. In Nigeria, with such a big population, if they all apply to come to South Africa without a visa, we’ll not be able to check who is here and who has gone back.

“Those are the issues and the ­instruments that we say we are willing to (waive), but (Nigeria) could put systems in its own governance that begin to give us comfort as South Africans that this movement, while it needs to be freer, is also a controlled one,” he said.

While the issue was raised during former president Kgalema Motlanthe’s stint in office, Bapela confirmed Nigerians are raising the issue more strongly than they have done before.

He said South Africa’s concerns over security were not dissimilar to those raised by the UK, which has required South African travellers to the UK to hold visas until South African identity documents are safer and not as easy to forge.

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