Promoting tourism in South Africa: briefing by Departments of International Relations & Co-operation & Home Affairs


18 September 2012
Chairperson: Mr D Gumede (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Departments of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) and Home affairs (DHA) briefed the Committee on their efforts in promoting tourism in South Africa.  DIRCO’s efforts were guided by SA’s membership to the United Nations World Trade Organisation. Staff and officials were given special training on tourism promotion.  Marketing materials and information were also made available at missions abroad.

The DHA conceded that it had a minimal role in promoting tourism directly, but its efforts indirectly promoted tourism.  It provided the Committee with specific details on its efforts to manage immigration. New processes would assist in promoting tourism in SA.  The DHA followed an “Onion Ring” approach to immigration management, which extended the borders of SA to the country of departure of the visitor.  Visa applications were thus made at missions in those countries, and if the application was unsuccessful, then the traveller could not come to SA.
There were visa waivers with certain countries. There was an advanced passenger processing system at the point of departure for visa waiver countries when passports were scanned. The individual’s details would be cross-referenced against databases in SA to check whether it was desirable to have the individual enter into SA.  The National Department of Tourism and DIRCO worked in conjunction with one another to have business partners in India, China and Nigeria to expedite visa applications. The applicants of the visa paid the cost attached to having the business partner assist.

The DHA also granted multiple entry visas to frequent travellers. If it was known that a person was low risk, then a two to three-year multiple entry visa would be granted.  Countries with visa exemptions were annually reviewed by the DHA.  Persons travelling through SA en route to another destination were required to have a transit visa. The transit visa was part of the DHA’s efforts to manage immigration.

The Committee was appreciative of the detail provided in the briefings. Most of the questions raised were on matters of clarification.  Many Members felt that SA had made a mistake after 1994 in opening up its borders and ports to everyone. Illegal immigration was a huge problem in SA and the Committee was glad to hear that efforts were being put in place to address the issue. The problem could be addressed only with co-operation from across all government departments. Systems were also being put in place to manage legal immigration. Actions were also being taken against corrupt officials.

The Committee adopted its oversight visit reports to the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga provinces, as amended. Minutes dated the 4 September 2012 were also adopted as amended.

Meeting report

Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) presentation
The DIRCO briefed the Committee on the support it provided towards promoting tourism in South Africa. Ms Valerie Matlou, Chief Director: Multilateral Branch, said DIRCO promoted SA’s and African interests in terms of the country’s development policy and the African Agenda with regard to tourism in the international arena, through SA’s membership of the United Nations World Trade Organisation (UNWTO).  According to the UNWTO, 880m people travelled throughout the world in 2010 and the number was expected to grow to 1.5bn by 2020.  

DIRCO trained all foreign service officers who were bound for transfers to SA embassies and consulates, on tourism promotion.  Cabinet had approved an expanded programme to instruct DIRCO to conduct economic diplomacy training for all SA diplomats.  Discussions with the National Department of Tourism (NDT) were ongoing to expand the programme outside of economic diplomacy, to give more content or detail to tourism promotion. The DIRCO had missions all over the world, and each operated at different levels of specialisation, depending on its human and financial capabilities.  At a number of embassies, there were dedicated officials who dealt mainly with tourism promotion. The DIRCO provided all missions abroad with marketing material for use at exhibitions and other promotional events. Officials also used every opportunity to obtain exhibition space at events to promote tourism to SA.   About 30 missions had active websites on which information about tourism in SA was available. Officials dealing with tourism developed ties with local travel agents in their countries of representation. They would arrange for travel agents to visit SA on a contact visit and to develop SA as a preferred destination. The annual Tourism Indaba offered an opportunity for travel agents, transferred officials and locally recruited personnel (LRPs) to visit the event, where they were able to communicate with representatives from every sphere of the tourism industry.

The rest of the briefing document contained tourism statistics for members to peruse at their own convenience

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA)
The DHA, represented by Mr Jackie McKay, Deputy Director General: Learning Academy, and Mr Jack Monedi, Chief Director: Permits, briefed the Committee on the support it provided towards promoting tourism in SA.   Mr McKay said that the briefing was along the same lines as what had been presented to the Committee when it had previously briefed members. He would stick to the salient issues.

The DHA had recognised the need to position its immigration functions at a level where policy, technology and early warning systems could effectively manage the movement of travellers through its designated borders and ports of entry. SA experienced illegal border crossings, human smuggling and a high demand for counterfeit documentation.  Amendments to legislation would put a halt to these activities. Many foreigners came to SA under the pretext of being a tourist. However, once in SA they applied for asylum.  With the legislative amendments, persons could no longer apply for a change of status while in SA. They could make an application only once they had left the country. The DHA was currently working on the regulations to the legislation. He assured the Committee that all systems were in place to effectively manage immigration. The new processes would assist in promoting tourism in SA.

The DHA followed an “Onion Ring” approach to immigration management, which extended the borders of SA to the country of departure of the visitor.  Visa applications were thus made at missions in countries. If the application was unsuccessful, then the traveller could not come to SA.  There were visa waivers with certain countries. There was an advanced passenger processing system at the point of departure for these countries when passports were scanned. The individual’s details would be cross-referenced against databases in SA to check on whether it was desirable to have the individual enter SA. Most visa waiver countries were from Europe. There were few from Eastern Block and Caribbean countries. Southern African Development Countries (SADC) with the exception of Angola, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) also had visa waivers.  Angola did not wish to reciprocate the visa waiver policy, hence their exclusion. The political situation in Madagascar made them high risk and the instability in the DRC made it risky to grant visa waivers. Visa waivers had not been granted to countries like Nigeria, China and India, even though they were frequent travellers to SA.  The reason was that nationals of those countries’ abused visa permits. The NDT and DIRCO worked in conjunction with one another to have business partners in India, China and Nigeria to expedite visa applications. The applicants for a visa paid the cost involved in having the business partner assist.
The DHA also granted multiple entry visas to frequent travellers. If it was known that the person was low risk, then a two-three year multiple entry visa would be granted.  When travellers arrived at SA ports and borders, checks were also done.  If necessary, persons could be sent for secondary clearance as well.
The DHA had a minimal role in directly promoting tourism, but its efforts promoted tourism indirectly.  A different type of staff member was being recruited in order to promote SA as a tourist destination. They would first be trained for three to four months, after which they would be deployed.

Countries with visa exemptions were annually reviewed by the DHA. Persons travelling through SA on route to another destination were required to have a transit visa. South African Airways had a problem with transit visas, alleging that it was losing revenue because of it. The DHA did not believe the allegation was true, as other airlines brought in persons in transit through SA.  The transit visa was part of the DHA’s efforts to manage immigration. Foreigners from China, India and Pakistan often flew under the pretext of travelling to Lesotho through SA.  Within a short period of time, these same individuals resurfaced in SA and claimed asylum.

The Chairperson asked how the respective Departments related to the NDT in terms of the Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) that existed between them. How was the process managed? What was the Departments’ interaction with the Tourism Business Council of SA?  The NDT had informed the Committee about the concept of a Univisa. What was it all about?  Members were also informed that Indian tourists had complained about the long queues at OR Tambo International Airport.

Mr McKay noted that there would always be tension between departments, because each had its own mandate.  Nevertheless, he felt that the interactions were healthy. The DHA had a good working relationship with DIRCO and the NDT. It should be remembered that the DHA was a security department and that it had limits. Business partners of the NDT would like the DHA to open up SA’s borders, but it was not possible. As a result, the possibility of tension was always there.
The MOU between the DHA and the NDT had been signed. The NDT and the immigration section of the DHA worked together. The DHA did attend stakeholder meetings.

Long queues at OR Tambo Airport and the issue of the Univisa were some of the issues worked on by both Departments. The Airports Company of SA (ACSA) and private business were taken on board to deal with issues like the long queues at OR Tambo Airport. It would help to identify where the glitch in ACSA’s value chain was.  The Univisa would be used by all Southern African Development Countries (SADC).  One visa allowed a person to visit all SADC countries.  The DHA had security concerns over the Univisa. There was huge risk involved. SADC had invited the DHA to be part of a pilot project.  As part of the pilot project, the security issues of the Univisa would be looked at. The Univisa was still at a conceptual stage and was a “red flag” for the DHA.

Ms Matlou stated that there was robust engagement between DIRCO and the NDT. There was also an Interdepartmental Committee on the UNWTO.

Mr R Shah (DA), addressing DIRCO, stated that Mr S Farrow had been informed by a local travel agent that a tour group from Mexico had cancelled their trip to SA as they had received a travel advisory that it was unsafe to travel to SA, based on the incident at Marikana mines. Mr Farrow had asked him to find out whether the travel advisory had been given to tourists.

He asked why the process of DIRCO opening up offices in East and West Africa was being delayed. What was the status of the MOU with the DHA, and what were the challenges?  He asked whether there were dedicated desks or liaison officers at DIRCO to deal directly with the NDT and the DHA.
Addressing the DHA he asked what the status of the MOU with the NDT was.  What efforts were there by the DHA to ensure that information obtained at ports of entry were accurate?  He referred to part of the DHA’s mandate as being to market SA as a destination for work and study.  How did the DHA do marketing?  He also asked what the challenges were on e-border technologies.  On the issue of business partners in foreign countries, complaints had been received about corruption that was taking place at the mission in Islamabad in Pakistan. What was being done to deal with problems of the sort?  How concerned were business partners in other countries about the issue of risk to SA.

He was not to sure about the effectiveness of the “onion” system” that had been presented by the DHA, as people were entering SA via the Mozambican border with the help of DHA officials. Why were tourists from the United Kingdom exempt from requiring visas to enter SA, but South Africans were not exempted from requiring visas to enter the United Kingdom?  He understood the security imperatives which led to the formulation of a transit visa.  In the United Arab Emirates, passengers who were in transit were not allowed to leave a demarcated zone at the airport. If one stayed more than two days in the UAE and were in transit, one’s passport was confiscated while one was there. He felt that SA’s borders were too porous.

Mr McKay explained that SA had moved from a closed borders approach to the other extreme of an open borders approach. The DHA tried to create a balance by managing immigration. The management tool created by the DHA was exactly for this reason. The problem was that SA’s borders were porous. The DHA did not manage illegal immigration. There were many role-players who had a role to play in dealing with illegal immigration -- for example, the South African Police Services and the South African Defence Force.  SA’s borders needed to be tightened up.

The DHA had mechanisms in place to deal with corruption.  It had a Counter Corruption Branch and was winning the fight against corruption. Most of the illegal persons entering the country came through gaps in border fences and not through ports. To get around the transit visa, illegal persons entered SA through its porous borders. The DHA was in the process of establishing a border management agency. The responsibility of managing borders was given to the DHA. The agency would try to address the problem at borders.

Mr McKay said the Minister of Home Affairs’ performance agreement with President Zuma was that the DHA would issue 50 000 work permits for critical skills. The DHA had to get involved in the recruitment of such skills abroad. All other departments, including DIRCO and the NDT, had to come on board.
The DHA had statistics only on legal migration. It did not have statistics on illegal persons unless they left SA. The DHA had a movement control system at ports of entry.
The DHA did not have a business partner in Pakistan. There were business partners in India, Angola, China and Nigeria.  MOUs with business partners stipulated that workers of business partners needed to be vetted. It was possible that corruption had crept in.
Some of the visa exemptions in place were from the old SA regime days and some had been imposed by the new democratic government after 1994.  UK citizens were exempted from requiring visas when visiting SA but South Africans still needed visas to go to the UK.  However, cancelling the UK exemption would be detrimental to SA’s tourism.  The matter was being discussed. The UK had agreed to review their visa regime regarding SA once the 2012 Olympics was over.

Ms Matlou responded that there was no way that a SA diplomat would have given the Mexicans advice not to travel to SA without a political advisory first.  It could be someone wishing to sabotage SA, or simply someone wishing to be silly.
On having dedicated desks to deal with tourism issues, she noted that both DIRCO and the NDT deputy directors in charge needed to discuss the matter. The NDT was the implementer department, and the DIRCO engaged and advised.
The issue of delays in the opening of offices in East and West Africa was the responsibility of SA Tourism.

Ms C Zikalala (IFP) addressed the DHA and referred to the problems at the SA-Lesotho border. She also asked whether the Beit Bridge border post was still a “no man’s land.”  She was glad that improvements had been made at ports of entry. Had the issue of human trafficking decreased due to the actions of the DHA?  Had there been an improvement?

Ms M Njobe (COPE), addressing DIRCO, asked whether the limited budgets of smaller missions did not affect their ability to promote major tourist attractions in their areas.  The presentation had indicated that there were no SA Tourism offices in five regions. She suggested that perhaps DIRCO and the NDT should look into the matter. It was especially important, since the number of tourists from Africa to SA was increasing.  She appreciated the fact locally recruited personnel were being employed at South African missions. On a recent international trip to Mexico, the Committee had noticed that a Mexican had been employed by the SA Embassy. If travel agents the world over met at tourism indabas, how many of them actually came to SA?
Addressing the DHA, she said it was quite encouraging that there had been an approach to managing immigration.  Immigration was a problem, in that SA opened up its borders to allow anyone in. Immigration was controlled all over the world. Immigration needed to be managed without SA being apologetic about it. SA citizens needed to be protected. How many visitors from non-visa requiring countries were monitored in terms of their activities? The DHA had alluded to the fact that there was some measure of control. What kind of visitors were frequent visitors who had visas requirements waived?  How did one qualify as a frequent visitor?  She felt that the issue of a transit visa had been explained well but pointed out that, from her own experience, the USA transit visa was humiliating.   She hoped that the SA transit visa was more sensitive to tourists visiting SA. The DHA had a long list of countries whose citizens did not need a visa to come to SA.  However some of the countries had a limit of 90 days attached to them. What was the 90-day limit about?

Mr Monedi stated that the 90 days applied to persons coming to visit SA. The visitor’s visa was valid for three months. It was a control mechanism.

Mr McKay explained that the SADC Protocol on the visa exemption specified that a person could visit SA without requiring a visa for a period of not more than 90 days. If the stay was longer than 90 days, then an application had to be made for a visa.

Mr F Bhengu (ANC) noted that cooperation among departments was important. How could the Committee assist the relevant Departments in achieving their objectives?  Sometimes cooperation between departments was a marriage of convenience or about protecting one’s turf. Too many human traffickers and poachers were entering SA under the pretext of being tourists.  After 1994, SA had opened up its borders too much. On what basis of law could a government department like the DHA be forced by a court injunction to let foreigners enter SA?  This would be a direct challenge on the sovereignty of SA.

The Chairperson agreed with Mr Bhengu, and asked if there was a gap in legislation. The Committee needed to be informed, in order for the gap to be closed.
Ms V Bam-Mugwanya (ANC) asked how DIRCO had presented SA’s and Africa’s agenda on development policy.  SA should extend its hands to those countries around it first before going to others. She asked whether Swaziland and Lesotho’s growth index was tourist or migrant labour related. She pointed out that brochures overseas only promoted major cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. There was very little on the Eastern Cape.  Perhaps mention was made of Port Elizabeth. The respective Departments should play a role in repackaging SA. She was also concerned that SA’s borders were too porous. Foreigners entered SA without much effort. Nationals from Pakistan and China had even flooded rural areas. Offspring from these foreigners were all over. SA should be stricter. Locals in rural areas were often misled by foreigners. SA had gone to great lengths to be democratic and to have a liberal constitution, but this had now come back to haunt the country. The DHA’s policy of extending SA’s borders was good but it needed to be perfected.  She asked what informed DIRCO’s decision to open up offices in a particular country. Was an environmental scan done?  How did the DHA keep track of whether people who came to visit SA actually left after their stay?

Ms Matlou said that DIRCO was aware that SA’s domestic policy informed its foreign policy. There was a need to look at employment creation and rural development. Presidential priorities were also DIRCO’s priorities. There was south-south co-operation, and south-north dialogue. She stated that the African agenda was promoted. There were 48 missions in Africa.
She explained that the offices referred to by the member were those of SA Tourism, not DIRCO. Perhaps greater engagement between the NDT and SA Tourism was needed for more offices to be opened in Africa.

The issue of brochures fell within the realm of SA Tourism and the NDT.  DIRCO had missions which provided political and economic benefits.

Mr Monedi responded that with regard to persons coming to SA from Swaziland and Lesotho, there was mixed migration. Some came for work, while others came as tourists. The mines in SA were using less migrant labour. There was not much illegal migration from Swaziland and Lesotho -- it was mostly work migration. The DHA had a new immigration policy that would be published for public comment soon.

The Chairperson said that other agencies besides the DHA should play a part in combating the influx of illegal persons. There should be co-operation from everyone.

Mr Shah noted that concerns had been raised over the turnaround times for visas. What was the DHA doing about the issue?

Mr Monedi explained that there were inland applications as well as overseas applications for visas to SA. The DHA had cleared 46 000 inland applications for visas. There was therefore no longer a backlog. The critical challenge that the DHA had at missions was the training of new staff. He added that there was the use of visa facilitation services in countries like China and India. The challenge for the DHA was in regard to the permanent visa.

The Chairperson said that further discussion could not take place due to time constraints. He added that the interests of SA should come first at all costs.

Committee Reports and Minutes
The Committee adopted, as amended, its reports on oversight visits undertaken to the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga Provinces.

Minutes dated the 4 September 2012 were adopted, as amended. The consideration and adoption of minutes dated the 11 September 2012 was postponed until the following term of parliament.

The meeting was adjourned.


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