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South Africa to lure Indian tourists by faster visa process: Minister

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New Delhi: South Africa is keen to employ latest information technology (IT) and other facilities to hasten the visa issuance process to attract more Indian tourists and businesses to the country, a visiting minister has said.

South African Minister of Home Affairs M. Gigaba said his country is keen and ready to cater to more Indian tourists and businesses.

“India is a fast growing economy and South Africa is ready to partner with it. We are ready to serve more Indian businesses and welcome more Indian tourists to South Africa,” the minister told IANS at the South African High Commission here.

“South Africa has the best of infrastructure, best of facilities for business in the whole of Africa. It can cater to Indian businesses which are looking at entering the African continent. The country also has abundant natural resources.”

According to the minister, as a member of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), South Africa has provided to Indian businessmen the facility to obtain a 10-year multiple entry visa.

“We have provided the 10-year multiple entry business visas. We are also looking at employing latest IT technologies that can ease the visa facilitation process and allow faster processing of visas for tourists and businessmen,” the minister explained.Rekha-Indian-Tourist-1

The South African minister is in India to meet his counterpart, Rajnath Singh, to discuss bilateral issues and the new visa policy between the two countries.

Currently, India is the third largest market in Asia, and seventh globally, for South Africa. The changes in the new visa policy are expected to have a major effect on tourism and on business growth in both the countries.

“We expect the number of Indian visitors to South Africa to grow. But even if it dips in the first year of the new regulations on visa norms being implemented, it won’t be a major concern. People take time to adjust to the new policy and norms,” the minister said.

“The reason behind the new visa regulations is to have a secure system in which no one is allowed to abuse the South African visa and immigration policies. This is to enhance safety, stop trafficking, and promote trust in travellers when they come to South Africa,” he said.

The minister also pointed out the various security threats emanating out of a loose visa system, like travel on false documents, child trafficking and promotion of illegal trades.

The South African government has come under criticism over its new immigration regulations, which came into effect from October 1, 2014.

The new rules require tourists to appear “in person” during the visa application process in order to obtain a biometric visa.

There is also the requirement for all children under the age of 18, travelling to and from South Africa, to carry the copy of an unabridged birth certificate in addition to their passport and visa. This regulation came into force from June 1, 2015.

Observers say the problem with the new system arose due to the lack of infrastructure to process the new set of data in visa applications.

However, the minister claims that the new infrastructure has been created especially in India, where the number of visa facilitation centres has grown from two to 11, and that more can be added if and when required.

“We will provide more facilities, more staff, and use new technologies to process the applications faster as and when the demand requires. I will be visiting the facilitation centres here in India and see them function,” the minister said.

In 2013, 128,179 Indian tourists visited South Africa, while the number dropped to 117,511 in 2014. (IANS)

Next Story

Widespread Stigma in South Africa, Despite Liberal Abortion Laws

At the clinic in Rustenburg, nurse Christa Tsomele has been performing abortions for a decade, and says she is proud of her work. She says she thinks some of her colleagues are contributing to the stigma of abortion -- and worse.

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South Africa
Nurse Margorie Sithole, left, explains to Martina Mabe, center, and Flora Tshabalala, right, that abortion proceedures will only be performed during the week at Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg, Feb. 1, 1997. VOA

Twenty-six-year-old Precious, as she has asked us to call her to protect her identity, is 16 weeks pregnant. And so is her best friend, also by Precious’ boyfriend. That event turned her life upside down and brought her to the difficult decision to seek an abortion.

She lives in South Africa, where abortion is legal without justification and available through a nurse through 12 weeks of pregnancy, and legal up to 20 weeks, when done by a doctor and with justification.

But when she tried to get an abortion in her home city of Johannesburg, she ran into problems.

“When I went to register my name, I simply said, ‘I want to do abortion,’ and then they said, ‘No,’” she told VOA.

“And there were two nurses there, and the older one said, ‘Oh, thank God, I’m not trained for this,’ whilst the other one said, ‘no, you have to do back to your place and do it there.’ Then we had a disagreement there, as, like, I’m being against God and more stuff like that.”

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The company recently launched a campaign to try to reduce the stigma around abortion care. Pixabay

Hers is a common experience, and it’s what reproductive health advocates say drives 10,000 South African women to seek illegal, backstreet abortions every year.

The nation’s health department estimated that as many as 25 percent of maternal deaths from septic miscarriages were the result of such illegal abortions. More than half of all abortions in South Africa are unlicensed, despite the fact that half of all government hospitals offer the service for free.

Precious, who says she fears being judged by her neighbors, chose instead to travel to the dusty mining town of Rustenburg, where aid agency Doctors Without Borders has set up a free abortion clinic.

She said she was sure of her decision.

“I want this thing to be done as quickly as — because I can’t, I can’t take it anymore,” she said, her voice soft and wavering. “Because what I’m thinking is what happened. I can’t think of, like, of positive things. I think, if this thing failed, then what will I do? Should I end my life?”

‘We give women a choice’

Whitney Chinogwenya, head of marketing at South Africa’s best-known private abortion provider, Marie Stopes, says their clinics address a real need. The company recently launched a campaign to try to reduce the stigma around abortion care.

“When a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy, they’re going to terminate the pregnancy,” Chinogwenya told VOA from the organization’s office in downtown Johannesburg. “It doesn’t matter what methods they use, it doesn’t matter whether it’s legal, it’s illegal or it’s safe — they’re going to find a way to terminate the pregnancy.

“So what’s so great about South Africa and it being legal here is that there’s a safe place where you can get the procedure, where it’s not going to harm your body, where it’s not going to cause serious complications. And the most important thing is that we give women a choice.”

Another problem, she said, is that few women know that abortion is legal, and think backstreet providers — who advertise openly, but who are not licensed — are their only option.

Medical experts told VOA harrowing tales of the practices performed by such providers. Many don’t perform ultrasounds, don’t attempt to determine how far along the pregnancy is, don’t follow up after the procedure, give the wrong medication, give incorrect medical advice, or administer dangerous chemicals such as bleach and drain cleaner to desperate patients.

One particularly egregious provider, Chinogwenya told VOA, even tried to sexually assault a woman in his care.

‘Somebody has to do it’

Nurse Kgaladi Mphahlele, who heads the Doctors Without Borders project in Rustenburg, says demand for the clinic’s services is high. He estimates he performs as many as 100 first-trimester abortions each month, and says he sees women from as far away as Botswana, where abortion is illegal.

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South Africa, where abortion is legal without justification and available through a nurse through 12 weeks of pregnancy, and legal up to 20 weeks, when done by a doctor and with justification. VOA

His patients, he said, range in age from teenagers to 50-year-olds. He began his career delivering babies, but switched course, and says he’s proud of his decision.

“I look back, ‘why did I get myself into this profession?’” he said, adding that his friends and family were initially worried, but have since become supportive of his choice.

“I said, ‘I want to be a health care provider because I want to help the people.’ And then, you see a gap, and this is part of health care service, and if no one is doing it, somebody has to do it. And I enjoy doing it, and I enjoy working with people.”

At the clinic in Rustenburg, nurse Christa Tsomele has been performing abortions for a decade, and says she is proud of her work. She says she thinks some of her colleagues are contributing to the stigma of abortion — and worse.

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“If you can’t help a patient as a nurse, just refer the client to the relevant place so that the patient must get help,” she said. “Don’t just tell her, ‘no, I can’t do that, or ‘I can’t help you,’ and leave the patient stranded. That is why they end up going to the bogus [provider]. Because when you leave her stranded, now she decides to go out to the street, that is where she is going to die.”

It’s that, she says, that keeps her going, through the judgment, through the tears, through the difficult stories she hears day in and day out. Because, she says, whether people agree with her work or not, she’s saving women’s lives, and following the law. (VOA)