Travellers slam SA visa regime

A NUMBER of Zimbabweans will be unable to visit South Africa for the festive season after failing to get visas due to the stringent requirements made by the South African authorities.


Prospective travellers interviewed this week

expressed frustration with the South African visa requirements which they said were being used to block genuine travellers under the pretext of controlling illegal immigrants into that country.


Those interviewed said they were unable to get visas because they did not have invitation letters needed to accompany a visa application. Tourists and holidaymakers do not travel by invitation, they pointed out.


Thulani Gumede, a Bulawayo resident who wanted to go to South Africa for holidays with his family, said he was unable to secure visas for his family because he could not produce an invitation letter to back up his application.


“I telephoned the guys at the South African embassy and they told me I should not bother to submit the passports unless I had an invitation letter from someone,” Gumede said.


“I asked the officer at the visa section how I could get an invitation letter to go on holiday on my own resources. In a way, I’m a tourist and since when have tourists been invited to tour holiday resorts?”


To get a South African visa, one needs to attach an invitation letter with the name and address of the host and a travellers cheque worth R1 000 or savings with a South African bank of the same amount. The visa takes seven days to process. South Africa recently introduced transit visas for Zimbabweans, in a move that showed a tightening of the visa regime.


If one is applying for a visa to attend a funeral, the embassy needs a death certificate, which means a bereaved family has to confront government bureaucracy to get the certificate before attending to more immediate issues.


To make matters worse, local travellers say, officers at the South African embassy’s visa section in Harare are generally hostile and treat customers with disdain.


Another potential traveller, Andrew Mutasa, said he also failed to get a visa because of the strict requirements.


“It’s very disappointing to be subjected to such kind of treatment, not only by fellow African brothers, but also by neighbours,” he said.


“When will South Africa realise it has to treat other Africans with due respect? It’s unfortunate such a small thing might end up damaging relations between the two countries if not addressed in time.”


Several travellers who failed to make it said they were annoyed by the South African visa demands because they would lose money — thousands of rands — they had paid for hotel bookings and other holiday activities in advance.


“I will lose R3 000 just because I couldn’t get a visa. This is really unfair and insulting,” one traveller said.


Last month editor of the Standard newspaper Davison Maruziva failed to attend an important media conference in Johannesburg after the South African embassy withheld his passport, claiming it could not be released before seven days had expired.


South African embassy officials could not comment on the issue this week. The head of the visa section (only identified as Nzuza) demanded questions be put in writing.


In the region, Zimbabweans are the only ones who need visas in advance to enter South Africa.


Eight months ago South Africa signed an agreement with Mozambique for the removal of visa requirements for Mozambican nationals visiting South Africa for a maximum of 30 days.


South African Home Affairs minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the Zimbabwean visa issue needed to be addressed urgently. Observers say it has become untenable for South Africa to block people — mostly ordinary citizens and businessmen — from travelling on spurious grounds. — Staff Writer.

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