[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Zim entry visa - damp squib concession
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sun May 17 11:06:12 BST 2009
Scrapping visas small comfort
May 17, 2009 Edition 1
The news of the scrapping of visas for Zimbabweans entering South Africa
has been received with mixed feelings by citizens of the two countries.
Many of those from north of the Limpopo gave a sigh of relief with
regard to the difficulties they had endured over the years whenever they
wanted to cross the border into South Africa.
On the other hand, many people in South Africa now fear a new influx of
refugees who may not have entered the country because of the very
restrictions that have just been lifted. This has heightened fears of
the revival of the xenophobic attacks experienced last May when South
African mobs turned on their neighbours, killing many.
There are yet others, though, mainly some government officials on both
sides of the border, for whom the scrapping of visas will mean something
quite different - the quickest way for the global recession to affect
The survival of Zimbabwe's fledgling transitional government of national
unity will have a direct impact on the movement of people between
Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The Beitbridge border crossing between South Africa and Zimbabwe is one
of the busiest in Africa, with at least 5 000 people officially crossing
the border every day, and many more having created their own entry
points over the years. It is estimated that there are more than one
million Zimbabweans living in South Africa, most of them illegally.
It is important to note that not everyone sees the removal of visa
requirements as causing any massive upsurge in the number of refugees,
because those Zimbabweans who wanted to cross into South Africa for
whatever reason have already done so.
To them, removing visa requirements is seen as just a formality. To
obtain a South African visa previously, Zimbabweans needed to submit a
valid passport, and proof of funds in the form of traveller's cheques,
credit cards or foreign bank statements that showed a balance of at
least R2 000.
Until February last year, a Zimbabwean intending to travel to South
Africa had to produce invitation letters or evidence of the host's
address in South Africa, as well as a security deposit in respect of
persons with a history of "overstaying" in South Africa or whose
integrity was questionable.
This was arguably the toughest visa regime in post-colonial Africa,
especially between countries that were not at war.
South Africans, in stark contrast, did not need visas to travel to
Zimbabwe. The situation in Zimbabwe itself did not help: obtaining a
university degree in Zimbabwe was easier than obtaining a passport.
A normal application process would take more than three years, and to
obtain an urgent passport, one would have to part with US$670 (about R5
This was a tall order in a country enduring a plethora of problems, with
an unemployment rate of 94 percent (UN estimates in February 2009),
empty shops, a collapsed health service and education system, and a
worthless currency in a hyperinflationary environment - all worsened by
a poisoned political climate characterised by violence and polarisation.
Even the slashing of passport fees by the national unity government in
April to US$170 for an ordinary passport does not offer respite in a
country where most civil servants are earning US$100 a month.
It is in these circumstances that a well-oiled corruption system has
reportedly developed at the Beitbridge border, the main beneficiaries
being the low-paid officials on both sides of the border who have to
"assist" desperate Zimbabweans for a fee.
There is no doubt that Zimbabweans welcomed the establishment of a unity
government in February with much hope, after a decade in which all that
could go wrong in the country had gone wrong.
And when South Africa removes travel restrictions, it is, indeed, good
news for Zimbabwe.
But removal of visa restrictions can also be seen as the continuation of
the policy of appeasement by South Africa, this time as a confidence
booster and image makeover to give the impression that the government of
national unity is working and that things have improved.
The timing of the move, unfortunately, also lays bare South Africa's
double standards: at one time claiming there was no crisis in Zimbabwe
and blocking possible UN intervention, while at the same time imposing
arguably the continent's strictest visa regime.
With the difficult political and economic situation in Zimbabwe, the
removal of visa requirements will not mean much because not much has
The bush entry points will not close anytime soon and, meanwhile, there
are those officials at the Beitbridge Border Post keeping their fingers
crossed. They do not relish the prospect of the economic downturn that
this visa development will bring.
# Webster Zambara is a senior project officer at the Centre for Conflict
Resolution, Cape Town
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