By Nevin, Tom
African Business , No. 357
Southern African immigration departments are in a hurry to tie up the final details to ensure visitors enjoy hassle-free entry into South Africa for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Now that visa-free, rapid-processing arrangements are in place, they are addressing the prickly issue of how to make sure the visitors leave after the final game.
One of South Africa's obligations as the 2010 host was to make entry formalities for visitors as easy as possible. In the process, worry some officials, the floodgates might open to a torrent of political and economic refugees and others seeking to settle in South Africa. "Letting them in is the easy part," observes one immigration officer, "making sure they leave after the games is something else altogether."
According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, the country has an estimated three to five million undocumented African immigrants in a population of 47m, and those on the outside looking in are anticipating an easier crossing when visa-free entry and other tourism border-crossing formalities are relaxed for the Cup.
"Our open-door policy for the World Cup has been widely publicised," says the immigration officer, "and we're afraid that masses of people desperate for a better life are already at the gate. Once they're in, they disappear into the townships and are absorbed."
"Entry into South Africa is easy enough," says Dr Darshan Vigneswaran, a migration expert at Johannesburg's University of Witwatersrand. "You can walk in across unguarded sections of the border or you can get in by paying a bribe at the border."
Morne Fourie, an official at the government agency that regulates immigration agrees and adds: "We know that South Africa is a magnet for migration on the continent," he says, "but this is Africa's World Cup, not just South Africa's, and we must do what we can to live up to that promise.
Working on the balance
The government says it is working on ways to balance welcoming the fans and making this an event for the whole continent, without compromising borders. It is spending around $145m to streamline entry for the games and in the process is making 2010 the first World Cup host to offer an Event Visa for visitors from countries lacking visa-free arrangements with the host government.
Applicants will have to show a purchased match ticket, an address while in South Africa and a return ticket home. Immigration officials will run spot checks on the addresses and deport the overstayers.
Southern African countries are clamouring for the attention of the half-million fans wondering what to do after the 2010 football spectacular. Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland Namibia and even faraway Mauritius are preparing to welcome football fans for next year's soccer spectacular.
As importantly, they're also drawing up plans to cash in on the games' afterglow and entice the half-million fans to stay on for a while and have a ball of a different kind.
Gaberone, the Botswana capital, is the nearest non-South African city to a World Cup venue. It is just 150km from the Rustenburg stadium where a series of the matches will be played. Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga province is just an hour's drive from the Mozambique border. Namibia can easily be reached by car from Cape Town and from Bloemfontein you can hop across the border into Swaziland or Lesotho.
"We always said it is Africa's World Cup. To be part of the 2010 accommodation programme is a great marketing opportunity for the tourism industry in the entire Southern African region to directly benefit from the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Mauritius and the other Southern African countries in the accommodation team have the unique chance to showcase fans from all over the world during the Cup, the splendid and diverse landscapes and the incredible hospitality the region has to offer," says Fifa's secretary-general Jerome Valcke. …