Cape Town - Can you imagine spending an entire year booking and planning your family holiday to a dream destination, only to have the excitement squashed as you’re about to board because you did not have a certain version of a birth certificate – despite having original birth certificates and passports for your children?
This happened to Jeremy Brooks, owner of a wealth management company in the UK on Christmas day - more than a year and a half after initial red flags and alarm bells over South Africa’s new unabridged birth certificates for minors were raised; more than a year after it was put on hold in order to ensure key source markets were informed and updated on the requirement; and about six months after a serious backlash in tourism numbers and spend to SA resulting in an inter-ministerial committee appointed by the state electing to scrap the requirement for foreigners travelling with minors into South Africa.
However the DHA had three months to implement this decision officially taken on 23 October – with the DHA deciding to take the full period at its disposal despite the busiest travel period of the year falling smack bang in the centre of it.
Still tourists travelling into South Africa are bearing the brunt, often at the huge expense of time and money. Still the department of home affairs says “UK-based travellers experiencing problems entering South Africa because of immigration regulations are 'baseless and inaccurate'”.
But for Brooks and his family the visa rule problem was very real.
He told Traveller24 how he began planning his family holiday to South Africa in January 2014 already, booking their business class flights as this was to be a "holiday of a lifetime” and spending £17 000 (about R394k at R23.19/£) before even getting to SA.
Brooks together with his wife and two boys were due to board a British Airways plane on Christmas day, 25 December 2015, for SA when BA staff said they were not allowed to fly because they only had the shortened version of both boys’ birth certificates and “SA authorities would send them back on the next plane and BA would be fined”.
“We were so looking forward to coming to South Africa for a holiday and to watch the cricket in Cape Town. South Africa has destroyed the dreams of two young boys and their parents by not allowing us to board the plane on Christmas day,” said Brooks.
Brooks said he cannot understand how this could become such an ordeal despite having their tickets, passports and his sons’ birth certificates - just not the right version containing both parents names and dates of birth as required by SA’s initial law, which has in fact been amended, just not put into effect as the department of home affairs sorts out the “legal instrument” in order to do so.
“It is the most disgraceful situation we find ourselves in and all we wanted to do was to experience the hospitality of South Africa and make sure we had an amazing holiday."
Added to this Brooks said they were not the only ones who had had their holiday plans dashed on the day either.
“There were five families turned away at the airport from our flight – can you imagine how that feels?
”One of the other families only had photocopies of the unabridged birth certificates and these were not deemed to be acceptable for the same reason.”
“I have been to South Africa on a number of occasions by myself and this was the first time I was in a position to bring my wife and children to your country but your country has ruined everything over some ridiculous paperwork without applying any common sense or looking at the facts contained within the passports or birth certificates.”
While many would argue that had this been a country like Britain or the US, travellers would have made sure they were properly clued up and dealt with the admin in order to abide by the requirements. And while the initial change was put into effect to combat child trafficking, said to be an "estimated 30 000 cases a year" but not a crime common to air travel, countries like Britain and the US do not rely as heavily on tourism, which contributes an estimated 9% to South Africa's GDP.
The costs of the rule to SA’s tourism industry has been debated over and over – but if based on half of what Brooks and his family spent (R394k - considering that they were travelling business class) the cost of this delayed rule scrapping over the festive season could easily be pegged at an estimate R29.5 million, if an average of five UK families were turned away during the month of December (estimates are for flights and accommodation - not factoring in what tourists would have spent when they arrive).
Brooks confirmed to Traveller24 that the ordeal also cost his family five days of their 15 day holiday, while British Airways managed to get them on another flight at no extra cost. He and his family finally arrived in South Africa on Tuesday 29 December.
Brooks said he had managed to get the correct version of the birth certificate on the first working day after Christmas at a cost of £30 (about R695).
“I haven't spoken to any of the other families (turned away on the same day) since but BA told us on Tuesday when checking in again that more families had been turned away on that day (Tuesday).”
“I must be speaking on behalf of so many disappointed families. I cannot believe that your country and your economy can be so inflexible and destructive to the people that want to contribute towards its growth and prosperity.”
In a previous statement Home Affairs Spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete said although the onus rests on travellers to carry the necessary documentation, "it doesn’t help when you have tourism leaders who are not encouraging people to comply to the rules".
But what are travellers expected to do when the rules keep changing and the implementation of those changes are delayed for almost 3 months?
On 23 October the IMC decided that in order to decrease the unintended consequences of SA’s immigration rules it be changed to allow foreigners travelling into South Africa without needing the unabridged birth certificate. The department of home affairs has until the end of January to make sure the changes have been put into effect.
Until then the changed requirement stands.