Kenya-South Africa visa nightmares a travesty for regional integration - CNBC Africa

Kenya-South Africa visa nightmares a travesty for regional integration

Special Report

by Trust Matsilele 0

Presidents Zuma and Kenyatta do not need visas when visiting each but their citizens will have to. PHOTOS: 2.bp/immigrationsouthafric

The tit-for-tat visa regulations implemented in between these (Kenya and South Africa) two countries in the last three months make it almost impossible for ordinary citizens of these economic powerhouses to visit each other, than it would be for either country’s citizens to visit Britain or the United States.

(READ MORE: Kenya slams ónly'South Africans with strict visa requirements)

This is against the spirit of Ubuntu (humanity) and proposed regional integration.

South Africa introduced a raft of changes to its visa regime last May making it impossible for all foreigners to renew their visas within its borders, of course with the exception of Zimbabweans under the special dispensation regime.

(WATCH VIDEO: New visa regulations for S.Africa)

Two weeks later in June, Kenya responded proposing strict conditions effective from 1 September 2014 which only target South Africans travelling into and transiting through the East African country.

Kenya no-longer issues visas to South Africans at the port of entry meaning South Africans will now have to wait for a week before travelling into or transiting through Kenya.

Also temporary passports cannot be used by South Africans travelling into or transiting through Kenya which now calls on all South Africans especially those doing business in Kenya to always have a passport in hand or else they face the risk of being barred or deported at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

The tug of war between these super powers has been received with extreme attacks from either countries’ citizens who view this as an unnecessary battle of egos.

(WATCH VIDEO: S.Africa & Kenya’s tit-for-tat visa regulations)

Some of the responses on the Kenyan High Commission website express the sentiments shared by many ordinary citizens and have already sparked xenophobic attacks from both sides of the aisle, hopefully this will not spill over to ordinary men on the street. 

Below is a sample of possible South African citizens who posted on the Kenyan High Commission website. 

South Africans respond to Kenyan visa law changes:

  1. Does this mean that if a RSA citizen is in transit via Nairobi (arrives at 12:00 and departs 16:00) to South Africa, a service fee of $70 must be paid or must you also have a visa if in transit?
  2. What is wrong with these people??????????? I also travel through Nairobi and only in transit to Mali and back to South Africa. Man this is not right and hope they can make other plans with this issue!!!!!!!! One thing is for certain they will lose a lot of business.
  3. Send back all Kenyans. Should make them feel more alien in South Africa

The posts had a fair share of responses from possible Kenyan nationals and sympathisers with some glorifying the new visa regime targeting South Africans.

Kenyans respond to their country's proposed visa laws for South Africans:

  1. Kenyans also get charged by VFS for visa processing to visit SA then get harassed at the airport by immigration for [a] Return ticket. Nothing is free. SA is getting a [taste] of its own medicine.
  2. This is the problem of doing things without thinking of the implications. Instead of agonizing many travellers we should have just contracted services of VFS Global. SA did it to streamline their Home Affairs we are doing it because South Africa did it. That's where we go wrong as always, Talk of African solutions for African problems! At this rate I will not be surprised come Sept 1st that South Africans don't need a visa after all. ...
  3. Thank you Kenya for firing shots back. The South African Embassy started all this by posing unrealistic requirements and high Visa Prices making it difficult for a Kenyan to acquire a South African Visa. South Africans have no one to blame but themselves through their Consulate in Kenya. All the Kenyan Embassy is trying to do is respond for their actions. Every action has a reaction.
  4. The SA embassy is also only in Nairobi. Kenya is a big country just like ZA so Kenyans living far off Nairobi are always forced to do what you think you shouldn't be made to do. Moral of the story i think is: "do unto others as you would have them unto you".
  5. Please do a background study to the genesis of this "misunderstanding.” The South African government/Home Affairs has treated citizens of other African countries like second rate human beings, while these countries have been very accommodating to South African citizens. What you are about to experience is what we have had to put through all this time.
  6. Thank you Kenya for putting in place this measure. We have been experiencing so much xenophobia at OR Tambo whenever visiting SA. Kenyan are no less humans. 

While Kenyan visa changes mainly affect South Africans, Mandela’s rainbow nation's new visa requirements affect not only Kenyans but most foreign nationals.

South Africa’s tourism minister Derek Hanekom recently registered concern over the immigration changes noting that this would affect his sector, a backbone of the economy.

(READ MORE: Growth in tourism sector undermined by S.Africa's new visa laws)

South Africa had about 13 million visitors in 2013 alone but with the visa law changes the number is set to decline.

“Like many other destinations, we have a dual imperative: We have to combat child trafficking by aligning our approach to global efforts, while limiting damage to our competitiveness as a tourism destination,” noted Hanekom responding to the immigration changes.

(WATCH VIDEO: Impact of S.Africa’s visa laws on tourism)

South Africa’s Home Affairs minister Malusi Gigaba is adamant that the visa regulations are meant to ensure the security of South Africans.

The immigration changes are not the only thing that is being enacted by the country and raising concerns from foreigners, the proposed Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill is another upset. The country insists these laws are meant to protect its borders. 

According to the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in South Africa, Jeff Nemeth, the proposed changes are set to offset certain investors.

“If you are a foreign direct investor and you are looking at investing in a different country you usually have choices and you don’t want to put your investment where it is not secure or without returns,” Nemeth said.

(READ MORE: Private security bill could harm S.African economy)

These new laws are an indication not only of South Africa’s policy direction going forward but of a likely response from fellow regional economies and investors which might have bearing in the long term.

But for now as Gigaba has insisted, all foreigners should comply with immigration laws which are here to stay.

He might have won the hearts of about 250,000 Zimbabweans with a stroke of a pen on Tuesday when he extended the Zimbabwe Special Dispensation by three years, however it’s not the same from Kenya.

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