Few months ago, some sad incidents saw Nigeria and South Africa, two African giants almost going against each other. That period witnessed attacks on lives and properties across both countries, as well as, the height of fake news and videos spreading on social media, which unfortunately escalated the situation.
Time, they say ‘is the healer of all wounds’, and rightly, the healing process long commenced with the state visits by the leadership of the two countries, starting with the three-day state visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to South Africa in October, where the Nigerian president signed a wide range of bilateral agreements with his South African counterpart.
Following that, in November, Nomalungelo Gina, deputy minister, trade and industry, South Africa, attended the Future Energy Nigeria, WAPIC Conference and Expo 2019 in Lagos, in the company of Darkey Africa, South African Consul General in Lagos.
The minister noted that the two countries can complement each other and grow economies together.
Consolidating on that gain, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, Tourism minister of South Africa, was in West Africa for a four-day working visit in the region. Starting from Accra, Ghana where she attended the first UNWTO Presidential Leadership Taskforce on Women Empowerment on Tourism Sector with Focus on Africa, she visited Lagos, for the Nigerian leg of her visit, which held at Wheatbaker Hotel Ikoyi and other venues.
Like in Ghana, where she interacted with tour operators, media and broad stakeholders in the tourism value chain, she extended further on that milestone in Nigeria, allowing the stakeholders to bare their minds with the hope of finding lasting solutions to some challenges they face.
Resolving the issues is necessary, especially now that President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, has called for the need to double domestic arrivals to the country to over 21 million by 2030.
So, the tourism minister, who describes herself as the ‘chef marketer’ of South Africa, is already pushing for results.
To woo more Nigerians to visit South Africa, the minister assured that, “We are open for business and tourists”, while saying that things are in place to ensure no further incident or attacks on anybody in the country, both citizens and foreigners.
She noted that the country has engaged two respected African ex-presidents to meet communities across the country and dialogue to ensure mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence of both locals and foreigners, especially in some townships with high unemployment rate where attacks have been recorded in the past.
But aside positioning South Africa as a destination of choice for West Africans and Nigerians in particular, the minister said the relationship going forward is mutual,
“We are committed to strengthening partnerships and driving collaborations that will help forge a stronger cultural exchange between the people of the people Nigeria and the people of South Africa”, she said.
On the challenges of visits to South Africa, part of the questions raised by most of the stakeholders at the engagement, she explained that on backlog of visas, South Africa has increased manpower at her embassies and consulates to assist in making the process smother. Again, she noted that the country is streamlining her visa regime to a world class e-visa system, which the president is backing for quick implementation. Already, the pilot scheme of the e-visa has started in Kenya with the hope of rolling it across the world soon.
However, said noted that as fast and simple as the e-visa is, it is guaranteed with genuine documents.
She said the country has not increased visa cost in years now in order to make it more accessible to applicants, but that the e-visa will curb the extra costs, especially processing fees charged by VFS and the visa processing centres.
She also challenged the stakeholders on formidable partnerships for hosting opportunities, tour packages and feedbacks to enable her country to improve where necessary in offering visitors the best hosting experience.
She has also proposed long term visas for frequent travellers and promised to increase the frequency of communicating the developments on related issues to the stakeholders.
On his part, Darkey Africa, South African Consul General in Lagos, noted that on the issue of negative perceptions, that the consulate has quarterly meetings with relevant stakeholders to discuss issues affecting them, hence he charged others to avail themselves the opportunity to participate and contribute to the growth of both countries along their line of business.
He explained that there has never been a deliberate attempt to undermine any applicant as visa are issued on merit.
As well, he called on the stakeholders present, especially National Association of Travel Agencies of Nigeria (NANTA) to help with certified partners as the consulate wants to work with structures that help make its duties seamless.
On the focus on Nigeria, the minister said South Africa has identified three key markets; China, India and Nigeria.
In closing, the minister reiterated the importance of tourism and peace to South Africa, noting that “Tourism is number 2 priority in this administration”.