SA’s tourism industry is celebrating winning a massive four-year battle with government as the Department of Home Affairs finally made a U-turn on rules related to unabridged birth certificates for minors travelling to the country.
Home affairs minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi confirmed in a Moneyweb Radio interview last week that unabridged birth certificates will no longer be required for foreign children travelling to South Africa.
“We have given the instruction that […] it’s no longer wanted. You don’t have to carry it, you don’t have to produce it,” he said in response to a question on the issue from Moneyweb’s SAFM Market Update business show host, Nompu Siziba.
“The argument from Home Affairs was that it was to stop child-trafficking,” added Motsoaledi. “Then we said no, no let’s not trouble tourists with this. Let’s find our own way of fighting child-trafficking, rather than using this method, which interferes with tourism.”
Motsoaledi, who was appointed home affairs minister following the general election in May, has had to deal with the issue which dates back to when Malusi Gigaba held the position.
Despite moves to relax unabridged birth certificate regulations in recent years, it has remained a thorn in the side of the tourism industry and has badly affected foreign tourist arrivals into SA since coming into effect in 2015.
During his interview, Motsoaledi did not go into detail on how soon the controversial rule will be abolished. However, industry bosses from the Tourism Business Council of SA and the Southern African Tourism Services Association (Satsa) say an official announcement is expected as soon as this week.
TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, who was at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa and other business and government leaders last Monday, tells Moneyweb that the matter was discussed at the forum.
“We were told that unabridged birth certificate regulations will finally be abolished, and we’re delighted at the news … However, the minister needs to have written confirmation sent to the International Air Transport Association (Iata) in order for this to be effective,” he adds.
Tshivhengwa says the sooner Home Affairs and Iata meet and finalise the matter the better. “I understand that the Home Affairs Department’s Immigration Advisory Committee will be meeting on October 16, so I expect an announcement soon after that.”
“This issue has been a concern for us in the tourism industry for years and tourism operators into SA have said that they’ve been losing as much as 30% in business due to unabridged birth certificate requirements. However, the impact is likely to have been much worse if you consider would-be international tourists being turned off by this additional red-tape. They would not have bothered and chosen to go elsewhere,” he adds.
Satsa’s CEO David Frost, who has vociferously criticised the regulations from the start, hailed the government’s U-turn.
“We welcome the fact that it will finally be abolished, but it has taken too long and has done a lot of damage. It will take time for the tourism industry to fully recover from this,” he says.
“The private sector drives the tourism industry, and the government should have spoken to us before embarking on the changes five years ago. They never wanted to hear us then, but we are glad that they have finally heard us. This will be one major hurdle out of the way, but we have our work cut out for us to put SA back on the international tourism map,” he adds.