Government mute on tourist bannings | 13 Mar 2024

Government mute on tourist bannings, ignores urgent request for official statement

 Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi. (Photo: Gallo Images / Frennie Shivambu) | Mireille Wenger. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)


By Georgina Crouth


13 Mar 2024  8

The Western Cape’s minister of finance and economic opportunities, Mireille Wenger, wrote to Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi two weeks ago requesting an official position on visa extensions. This was after immigration officers began banning tourists and even medical professionals from SA.

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It’s been two weeks since the Western Cape’s department of finance and economic opportunities wrote to Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi about tourist bannings, and there’s been no response to provincial minister Mireille Wenger’s urgent request for an updated directive on short-term visa extensions. 

In that time, dozens of tourists, lawyers and immigration specialists have shared stories about property owners, swallows, foreign doctors on volunteer programmes and others being banned from South Africa because their visas had expired and the extensions were not granted in time.

Notwithstanding Motsoaledi’s comments during the Budget debate and assurances from Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille, the Border Management Authority (BMA) says statements made in Parliament are not equivalent to official policy, so their officials are under strict instructions to comply with a directive issued on 22 December 2023 in which the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) extended a temporary concession to deal with a backlog of waiver, visa and appeal applications.

This directive said that visitors in SA on a short-term visa (90 days or less) who had applied for a visa extension on or before 30 November 2023, and who had not received a renewal outcome by 23 February 2024, should leave South Africa by 29 February to avoid being declared undesirable.

Directive ‘misunderstood’

Following an outcry over reports about tourists opting to leave the country earlier to avoid being banned, Motsoaledi told Parliament during the Budget debate on 14 February: “(The) directive is clearly misunderstood by all and sundry. This was meant to be an internal memo, to guide new BMA officials at the ports of entry. Unfortunately, it even touched on issues that clearly needed no directive. We are being accused of chasing tourists out of South Africa…

“What is new here, is that a circular or directive has been issued to guide new BMA officials at ports of entry, but the directive ended up in the public arena. We concede that there was no need to advise anybody to leave the country on a particular day because such dates are already stipulated on the visa,” said Motsoaledi.

“The other clarity I have to make is that if you have applied for a visa extension and you have not yet received a response, the receipt you get as proof of your application serves as an extension of your visa until such time that you get the outcome of your application, positive or negative.

“No one should arrest you while you have such a receipt, and no one can declare you undesirable.”

This was the minister’s first response to the issue after almost three weeks of silence following a Daily Maverick report about the departmental directive to Border Management Authority officials.

De Lille’s assurance

On 15 February, De Lille expanded on the issue, telling SAfm that tourists who had already applied for visa extensions could stay in the country until they had received an outcome. Those who had yet to apply could also still do so. 

“So, the current position is that all the tourists who have applied for visa extensions, if they are in possession of a receipt that they have applied, it’s [the memo] not applicable to them.”

When Daily Maverick contacted Motsoaledi’s office for an official position on the matter, his spokesperson, Thabo Mokgola, insisted that what Motsoaledi had told Parliament during the Sona debate sufficed.

“Please refer to the minister’s speech during the Sona debate on the matter,” Mokgola said. When pressed further, he repeated: “The matter is being addressed in the speech.”

For more than a week, Daily Maverick tried to elicit a more detailed response from Home Affairs by emailing numerous officials, including Siyabulela Qaza, another media liaison, who failed to respond despite receiving four WhatsApp reminders and two emails.

De Lille’s office also failed to respond to fresh queries, but previously insisted they were working with Home Affairs to streamline the visa process.

“Where there are issues, Minister De Lille works with Minister Motsoaledi to resolve this,” her spokesperson Zara Nicholson said.

Lost in translation

Mireille Wenger, meanwhile, wrote to Motsoaledi on 1 March requesting that his office issue the updated, official directive to guide Border Management Authority officials.

Referring to his speech to Parliament, Wenger said: “Alarmingly, the explanations and undertakings given in this speech appear not to have been communicated to the Border Management Officials and other Home Affairs officials at ports of entry and exit to South Africa. 

“While the 21 December 2023 internal circular is available on the DHA website, the clarification [that if a person applied for a visa extension and has not yet received a response, the receipt of proof of application serves as an extension of the visa until such time that the outcome of the application is made known], is not available on the Home Affairs website. 

“I am aware of reports of officials not accepting the transcripts or prints of your speech as proof of the official position, and appear to have not received any formal instruction or directive to continue other than in terms of the 21 December 2023 directive. 

“BMA officials have been adamant that they act in accordance with official, written directives only,” said Wenger in her letter.

As a result, tourists were being turned away, denied entry or forced to leave the country early — some have even been declared “undesirable”. 


“My office has received numerous complaints to this effect, as well as the continued confusion surrounding this matter,” Wenger’s letter to Motsoaledi continued. 

“Please can you urgently provide me with the official statement, notice, directive or any variation thereof, in terms of which relevant officials are unequivocally told what the current position is, and specifically that short-term visa holders with the requisite applications underway cannot be denied entry or declared ‘undesirable’, to assist in its communication to avoid further distress for visitors.”

Some of the complaints received by Wenger have also been shared with Daily Maverick

Immigration consultant and lawyer Peter Jones said a client departing South Africa was at first told at the airport that as long as he had a renewal receipt from visa facilitation company VFS Global, he wouldn’t be banned. 

“He had a very tense encounter with the BMA. He is a German citizen and owns a property in SA. He’s here on a visitor’s visa, has applied for an extension and owns property in SA which he is presently renovating, so cannot receive a ban as he must come back soon to supervise the renovations.

“They didn’t ban him but said they should have as he had overstayed his visa (visa expired on 24 February). From this interaction, he said he wasn’t sure if they didn’t ban him because of his particular situation or because of the statements made by the minister.”

Another tourist, who had gone through the laborious and expensive Health Professions Council registration to work for free in South Africa as a medical volunteer, said he had come to Cape Town with his girlfriend to volunteer at Mitchell’s Plain Hospital as emergency medicine doctors. 

They had applied for short-term visas because the volunteer visa took too long to be issued.

Dr Luke Rothwell said that within a week of arriving, they applied for the visa extensions and handed in their applications together.

His girlfriend received a response three weeks later, but with the wrong dates. His was pending, but he was assured that if he presented his VFS Global receipt to immigration, that would suffice.

“Unfortunately, when I left South Africa, the immigration official stated that these visa extensions were no longer offered and I have been banned for five years.

“I was in Cape Town as a volunteer. I am an emergency medicine doctor in England, halfway through my training to become a consultant. My girlfriend and I were both part of a scheme where doctors from England work for free in order to learn and share skills with South African healthcare professionals. We were on full-time rotas, often in the hospital for up to seven days a week and worked every other weekend.”

In the past, British doctors have always been able to get the visa extension, but Rothwell said the current situation was putting off many British doctors who are willing to work in the public healthcare system for free.

“I loved my time in Cape Town, however, as you can imagine, being declared an undesirable for five years left a really bitter taste in my mouth. To be registered with the South African health board was expensive and difficult and again was full of bureaucracy. 

“I’ve tried to appeal my undesirable status but none of the numbers online seem to work.” DM