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.

AFP

AFP

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,

Claudia

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