Applications for South African visas by Nigerians have reduced owing to delays and denials, according to travel agents, a development that is said to have contributed to the rise in travels to Rwanda and Kenya from Nigeria.
“Many people have stopped applying for visas to SA for holidays as Rwanda has become the preferred route. Rwanda started with visa-on-arrival and today, Nigerians don’t need a visa to go to Rwanda. Rwanda has made life easy,” Susan Akporiaye, president of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), told BusinessDay.
“Kenya is also an option as the country offers electronic visas, which are processed between five to seven working days.”
Akporiaye said travels to Kenya and Rwanda have risen since visa delays and denials to South Africa continued to rise.
She said the South Africa visa issues have been discouraging, adding that travel agents have stayed away from helping travellers process South African visas for Nigerian travellers.
The NANTA boss said: “Customers often think travel agents are incompetent and not professionals when they get consistent denials and delays; so most of us have stayed away from processing South African visas. The few ones I tried to do never came out. We didn’t sell summer tickets for the South Africa route.
“I tried to process SA visas for a family for summer and the visas did not come out, even after the holiday period was over. They had to withdraw the passports.”
She said there needs to be a deliberate decision and strong relationship between the South African tourism board and travel agencies to ensure visa processes are fast and easy.
Gina Ogonna, a travel agent with Green Travels, told BusinessDay that her agency did not issue tickets to passengers to South Africa during summer but there were a lot of travels to Rwanda and Kenya during the same period.
Ogonna said a lot of travellers complained of visa denials and delays to South Africa, which made them opt for other destinations.
A visit by BusinessDay to VFS Global, Lagos, where applicants’ passports are submitted for visa processing to various countries, showed that there were lots of applicants to various Schengen countries, Canada, UK but very few South African applicants.
A top government official told BusinessDay on condition of anonymity that he submitted his passport for visa to South Africa but did not get any response from the embassy for over a month.
The official said after he became concerned as his date of travel drew near, he sought the intervention of the foreign affairs minister and was eventually issued a visa.
“When I went to submit my passport at the VFS office in Lagos, I was surprised to see that I was the only applicant on the queue for visa application to South Africa. I noticed that there were long queues for applicants to other countries but no single applicant to South Africa,” he said.
BusinessDay had in March 2022 reported that against expectations that the visit of Cyril Ramaphosa, South African President, in December 2021 would expand markets and strengthen ties between Nigeria and South Africa, the reverse had since been the case as Nigerians constantly faced visa denials and delays, thereby impacting businesses between both countries.
But Darkey Africa, the then consul general, SA consulate, Lagos, in response, insisted that the visa process is a transparent process, governed by established and open rules and protocols and each case is treated on its own merit.
“The visa process is a transparent process, governed by established and open rules and protocols. Each case is treated on its own merit. Without details, it becomes near impossible to follow-up as we deal with many applications on a daily basis,” he said.
Air Peace, the largest Nigerian carrier, had in August 2022 announced that it would be suspending its Johannesburg flight operations from August 22 till October 8, 2022 due to the delayed issuance of South African visas to travellers.
The airline also cited aviation fuel scarcity, worsening foreign exchange crunch and the increasing cost of aviation but stressed that the consistent visa denials had since affected its passenger traffic on the Johannesburg route.
According to the airline, having informed the South African High Commission in Lagos of the effects of the difficulty in getting SA visas by Nigerians, which consequence was the abysmally low passenger loads on its flights to and from Johannesburg, it believed that the situation would have improved within the next 60 days, “hence, our willingness to resume operations on the October 8, 2022”.
Recently, visa applicants to Johannesburg also disclosed to BusinessDay that delays and denials have become a trend for the South African High Commission.
“I have an event to attend in South Africa on the 12th of August and I had applied for my visa about one month ago but up till now, they have delayed in issuing the visa. I am not even sure of the trip anymore because I don’t know if they would still give me the visa. The delay is just unexpected. I think the government will need to wade into this issue. A lot of Nigerians are also facing similar challenges,” an applicant who did not want to be identified told BusinessDay.
Peter Ugwu, another applicant, said he had to suspend his business travel plans to South Africa after being denied a visa, despite meeting all the requirements.
During Ramaphosa’s visit to Nigeria in December, 2021, both countries signed agreements of co-operation on youth development, audio visual co-production and a programme of cooperation in the field of arts and culture.
President Ramaphosa had asked for closer ties and special relationship with Nigeria and even signed a new memorandum of understanding.
But Nigerians who have applied for South Africa visas in recent times have decried the constant denials of visas from the country’s mission even after meeting the requirements. Applicants denied visas include students, investors and tourists.