Claudia Hirtenfelder
Claudia Hirtenfelder

Rethinking the new visa requirements, an open letter

Dear John,

This morning you said, “Tourists are the most important people” because they bring jobs and money to South Africa before calling the new requirements for visas “daft”. You then went on to say that you just don’t understand why we would be tightening our controls and India doing everything they can to loosen them, so as to assist its tourism industry.

I understand your logic. This euphoric reading of tourists and tourism is widespread. Tourists are framed as being a silver bullet to bolstering economies (rural or national) and for the sharing of ideas.

That said, tourism is an industry, like most, which is also built on inequality and global power dynamics. It has been found to be a leading cause of cultural posturing and growing divides between rich and poor.

Therefore, there are a multitude of conflicting and contradicting costs and benefits with tourism. However, the fact that tourism has ambiguous consequences is not what baffled me most about your line of thinking.

You are critical of the new requirements and the effects it may have on tourist numbers but what if we switched the perspective of the argument from one that looks at money to one that looks at human rights?

South Africa is a major hub of trafficking. We are both a large recipient and distributor of people. Whenever conversations of the vast and intricate networks of trafficking emerge people throw up their hands and shout “Something must be done!”, as they should.



What if we stopped and looked at the new visa requirements not as an attack against the tourism industry but one against human trafficking? What if we stopped to ask India why they are decreasing their controls to curb their high levels of child trafficking when we are strengthening ours?

Tourists are important but slight frustration at having another hoop to jump through should not be at the expense of creating systems that counteract the buying and selling of people, many of who do not have as strong a voice as tourists to begin with.

Those who are plucked from their homes to work as slaves might also be important in terms of money, children included — they might be the sole breadwinner, a key source of labour in the home, not to mention a loved one. They are important too! Just because their monetary contribution to the economy seems less than that of the tourism industry it does not justify heightening well-off tourists needs over theirs, especially if the reason is inconvenience.

You might say that these new visa requirements would do little to dent trafficking operations that already operate clandestinely, but I would argue that they also show that the state is doing “something”. The requirements make a statement that South Africa believes trafficking to be an evil that must be resisted, even if that is at the expense of some in the tourism industry.

I might be wrong. The whole tourism industry might go up in flames. But if people are willing to go through the arduous processes and requirements to visit North Korea, The US, or a Schengen country then they are just going to have to get used to doing the same for South Africa and they should be willing to, especially if the reason they are doing so is to counteract child trafficking.

Will it be difficult to implement? Certainly. Will tourists want to pluck their eyes out while waiting in queues? Most likely. Should these be reasons for not putting in place more restrictions that might stop of the trafficking of children, even if only one? No.

John, you are a critical, fair, and compassionate radio host. I enjoy your show. I listen to it most mornings. I admire your quick thinking, hard-hitting questions and your willingness to address emails and calls of listeners needing help.

I respect you. But on this topic I would like to challenge you to contemplate this subject more and to move away from thinking about tourists as the most important factor here but rather as a part of a complex system in which they are generally the most privileged and in which they generally have the most power and means to meet such requirements.

Kindest regards,


Tags: , , ,

  • Stop killing our wild animals!
  • Limping from policy disaster to policy disaster
  • The consequences of a total ban of trophy hunting
  • Florence, Siena and the ‘space of flows’
    • Graham Prix

      Claudia, I must say I find this a baffling contribution. Your overall desire is to reduce trafficking which is commendable and the correct thing to do. But then, let’s do something which is more specific to trafficking (which almost certainly isn’t happening through airports on any large scale). Sort out land border controls first (and I’m not talking only about official crossing points).

      To attack the problem with an incorrect weapon could have bad consequences. You mention ” I might be wrong. The whole tourism industry might go up in flames”. That’s quite an extreme consequence. It’s a bit like drone strikes: yes, they kill people, not always the right ones, but let’s use them anyway, as it shows we are doing something (your logic).

      The main problem we face is one of impetus: if we find the new requirements are harming our economy, yes we can change them, but it will take a long time to get back to square one. Enormous amounts will have to be spent by both state and private operators to re-position SA and re-educate our market.

      The morality of tourism is of course another topic entirely, and certainly one to be debated. But beware of killing what could be a golden goose to many.

    • Talitha Bertelsmann-Scott

      I think you are spot on – and how big a hoop is it really to get the Unabridged Birth Certificate. For me it was a breeze.

    • John Paterson

      If only we can persuade all human traffickers to go through official channels, this piece would have validity.

    • HerFk

      Dear Claudia,
      The official reasons for the new requirements are, as you claim, to prevent human trafficking. However, to introduce such harsh measures, it should be first established whether human trafficking takes place via airport entrance points or through our porous borders. Until we are clear about this, the measures are unjustified. As unjustified as FICA and RICA since they are not meeting the purpose they are supposed to.
      But what is particularly worrying is that the minister appears to be full of arrogance, not consulting with major stakeholders and just putting his foot down and stating that is the way it’s going to be.
      We have too many examples in this country where incompetence rules and the willingness to look at a situation from different perspectives is seriously lacking.

    • Stephen Hall

      Your argument is based on two striking claims which you do not substantiate: (1) “South Africa is a major hub of trafficking” and (2) “[Tourism] has been found to be a leading cause of cultural posturing and growing divides between rich and poor.” I’m not sure what “cultural posturing” is, but nevertheless, can you provide evidence to back these claims?

    • Cliff Smith

      Biometric documentation of everyone flying in and out of SA together with high quality hi-res photo ID taken at passport control will be the most effective and least onerous deterrent to trafficking. This can (and in many countries is) done at passport control on arrival and takes less than a minute. Any fool with a scanner, photoshop and a decent printer can forge paper documents.

    • Frank Lee

      Claudia, this is such a brilliant idea. I have no doubt that every child trafficker has removed their villian’s mask and is confounded by the brilliance of this plan. Faced with such a cunning plan as an unabridged birth certificate, which is surely more difficult to forge than a passport and not available from corrupt Home Affairs officials, will now plan on going to Australia or Canada.

      Tourists, especially those who don’t live in their country’s capital cities, will surely love the opportunity to stand in queues at SA House, in order to visit our squatter camps. Anything to flaunt their wealth to starving Africans.

    • RSA.MommaCyndi

      I am rather sad at the timing of this new regulation. Some old friends were looking at coming to South Africa for a holiday. Unfortunately, they are foster parents and the new visa requirements would necessitate that they leave their three foster children at home as there will not be sufficient time to get a court order to allow for the travel. We may be able to go to Zambia to meet up with them, but it won’t be the same.

      The saddest part is that I know of a baby who was recently ‘abducted’ by her mother. She simply went to Botswana and flew out from there.