I have been reading a lot of articles and watching news on television about South Africa’s new immigration laws that went into effect in October 2014 and in June this year. Having read these articles and watched the news, I’ve come to the conclusion that South Africa’s journey to prosperity will be long, very long. Along the way severe turbulences will come –that will, at times, reverse the socio-economic gains the country has made.
There are many South Africans, including me, who do not understand why the Department of Home Affairs, led by Malusi Gigaba, enacted these calamitous laws that have caused and continue to inflict damage to the tourism industry. We do not only fail to comprehend the idea behind these laws, we also cannot make sense of the remarks echoed by Gigaba and his colleagues in defense of these laws.
The damage, one could argue, began last year when our government required that foreign nationals who want to visit South Africa should apply for their visa in person at our embassies abroad. In my opinion, that alone was a wrong and an ill-advised move.
For some people in many countries around the world, embassies can be far away from where they live. Large countries like China are especially affected. China is a massive country with thirteen cities numbering over 10 million people each. Only two of these (Shanghai and Beijing) have South African consulates where visa applicants must apply in person. The long, costly process of travelling to apply for a visa may discourage them from visiting our shores, and turning to other countries with more welcoming policies.
Did our government do a thorough analysis to determine the possible negative results of these regulations? They probably did, but underestimated the impact.
Well, 2015’s first quarter was a disappointment. Grant Thornton found that during the first quarter of this year, South Africa lost 150 000 international visitors and $128 million in direct spend, compared to the first quarter of 2014. Tourists from China, our major market, declined by 40%.
Some attribute these losses to the Ebola crisis that troubled West African countries last year. They argue that because of stigma, most tourists stayed away from South Africa even though Ebola was hundreds of miles away from the country.
However, with or without Ebola, there’s no need to pass legislation that makes it difficult for this country to attract tourists. We should not take such a risk. In fact, threats of Ebola and terrorism (Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Kenya) should make South African authorities that much more proactive in encouraging tourism and making it easier for travelers to visit.
In June this year, another pack of regulations came into effect again – where now, anyone traveling with a minor under the age of 18 – either to or from South Africa–is required to present an unabridged birth certificate at the port of entry in South Africa, in addition to a normal passport and visa.
The Department of Home Affair’s stated objective with this law is to quell child-trafficking and protect our borders. Gigaba’s ministry estimates that 30 000 children are trafficked through South Africa every year – which is a startling statistic. But this statistic has been disputed by many.
In his article published at Daily Maverick, Stephen Grootes of Radio 702, writes, “That figure has been denied by the nongovernmental organisation that was first quoted, and it was dispelled by AfricaCheck. A separate parliamentary answer has revealed that in fact 23 children had been trafficked in a three-year period.” These are bad regulations based on bad data.
In my opinion, our politicians have done serious harm to our tourism industry. They have hurt a thriving sector that employs more than a million people. An industry that accounts for more than 3% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Above: Clifton beach in Cape Town, a popular tourist attraction that draws thousands of visitors to South Africa. However, many potential tourists may feel that the excessive burdens imposed on them by Home Affairs are not worth the extra hassle and inconveniences, and will take their money elsewhere.
We are all concerned about child trafficking. Of course we should do something about it; but it seems these laws aren’t the way to address it; they cause severe wounds to our already anemic economy. We need to find alternative ways to fight child trafficking – where the trade-offs won’t be of this colossal magnitude. There is no telling what the damage to small, fledgling businesses and entrepreneurs in the tourism industry may be. Ineng held an Entrepreneurs in Public Policy event in October 2014 arguing that the new visa laws would have negative consequences for South African tourism. We unfortunately appear to have been correct.
Finding solutions to human trafficking may not be easy. But the answer to these crimes is not the onerous and ill-conceived new immigration laws forced on the country by Home Affairs. These laws should be repealed immediately, before even more damage can be done to South Africa’s image as a tourist destination.
As I have always argued before, this country is headed in the wrong direction. The state is ever-expanding at a huge cost. More and more laws are passed at the expense of our liberties. As a result our economy suffers.
In May this year, at the Cato Institute in Washington D.C., South Africa’s famous Frans Cronje said, “If we are to turn the tide in South Africa, it is first and foremost important to shift public opinion away from dirigisme and towards the economic freedom vital to investment, growth, and jobs.”
Frans was correct. It’s time South Africans embrace markets as a solution to high unemployment and poverty. One of the first things we should do soonest, is to call for the repeal of these damaging visa regulations. We need to do that as soon possible, before it’s too late.
This article is published as part of Ineng’s Free Skies program, looking at issues affecting the travel and aviation sector.