Visitors from 40 of the 54 countries in Africa required a visa to enter South Africa in 2016. This is according to a recent report by the African Union Commission (AU), in collaboration with the African Development Bank (ADB) and the World Economic Forum (WEF). While the country says it is committed to achieving the free movement of people on the continent, the figures suggest South Africa is a long way from realising Agenda 2063.
The report, titled: Africa Visa Openness Report 2017, ranks Seychelles as the highest – where not a single African visitor requires a visa and vice versa with all other states. Uganda and Togo are ranked second and third respectively. South Africa, meanwhile, is jointly ranked with Liberia at 34. While South Africa is ranked in the bottom half, the country has approved 10-year “multiple entry visas” to African business and academics – a year after affording BRICS partners the same privilege.
Ironically, South Africa wants to scrap its visa system with the European Union and other countries outside of Africa, expecting better facilitation. It is also aimed at freeing up travel between BRICS countries, most recently scrapping its visa agreement with Russia. On the continent however the idea of ‘open borders’ seems far more complicated.
Border officials already have sleepless nights over the movement of illicit or stolen goods both in and out of the country. South Africa is therefore far more concerned about the ‘illegitimate’ movement of people and goods, as it not only contributes to crime, but undermines economic activity as well.
Instead, the country is focussed on allowing those that could contribute positively. Earlier this year the Home Affairs Department introduced the Border Management Authority Bill (BMA) in Parliament. The bill is aimed at “facilitating the legitimate movement of people and goods in line with [South Africa’s] socio-economic objectives,” Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize told the National Assembly in May.
It further aims to address some of the current shortcomings. Mkhize says currently, inter-departmental cooperation is often fragmented and incoherent. “This negatively impacts travellers and traders, whilst also creating a breeding ground for corruption,” Mkhize told lawmakers. While there are numerous reports of successful seizures at the country’s 72 ports of entry, it is no secret that officials are often accused of accepting bribes or even stealing seized contraband.
Home Affairs says it is committed to realising Agenda 2063, which reads: “Africa shall be a continent where the free movement of people, capital, goods and services will result in significant increases in trade and investments…” But as of yet, the government has given little to no indication that it intends to scrap the visa system.
Yet there are calls for greater openness. “If we see Africa as one market, if we believe in integrating Africa and if we want to promote talent mobility all across Africa, greater freedom of movement is a necessity,” Pierre Guislain wrote in the report, on behalf of the ADB.
As for South Africa, the proper implementation of legislation will be crucial in realising any goal – currently a major hurdle to the state in many instances. The introduction of new laws in itself will not solve corruption at any of the entry points. And amid allegations of widespread corruption in many law enforcement agencies – bringing their credibility into question – it is unclear whether there is enough law enforcement will to not only prevent the ‘illegitimate’ flow of goods and people, but also facilitate and safeguard the legitimate version thereof.