We’re off on hols next month so this is the last column for a few weeks. I had thought of filing copy from Marrakech but I’m not sure what the connectivity is like there so I have asked the boss for a few week’s leave…..unpaid naturally. She has reluctantly agreed but has threatened to offer Fred Khumalo this space if I fail to make it back.
In the old days travel used to be easy for South Africans. You would select a holiday destination in Europe, buy your air tickets, book your accommodation and a week before your departure date you would sit at the bank filling out forms and signing your traveller’s cheques. These were documents which were largely unrecognised and unwelcome by any foreign bank, notwithstanding they had the face and the name of Thomas Cook on them. Most restaurants and shops seemed reluctant to accept them and you had to find a bank that was a member of the Thomas Cook illuminati to accept them without charging a R300 commission. But that was a small hassle compared with travel today.
Now we are a fully democratic country and beloved by the world for our rainbowness yet we are no longer welcome. At this point I should declare a personal interest. When I say “we” are no longer welcome I mean “you”. I have a UK passport which commands immigration officials to let me in or risk the wrath of Queen Elizabeth II. Mrs B is a Saffer though and she requires a visa for everywhere. We used to be able to get into the UK and Switzerland but no more. She has to fill out forms and prove that she has never taken flying lessons, that her middle name isn’t Fatima and that she has enough money to pay for her visit and promises to come back. This is all a bit of a bore because whenever we want to go anywhere on holiday there is a huge bureaucratic process involved. The 10 year Brit visa she just received for a princely sum meant answering lots of questions. Who’s paying the airfare? Who’s paying for the accommodation? Where will you find spending money etc etc. She put in husband for all the above (it’s a 25th wedding anniversary holiday) and then the poms wanted to know why this particular person should be footing the bill. I told Mrs B to fill in “payment for sexual favours” but she is a serious woman and put in “lost bet at the Scrabble board”.
Friends of mine have been attempting to go on holiday to Italy to boost that country’s economy. Do you think the visa people have been helpful? They have done everything possible to prevent four well heeled visitors from spending money in their country.
It’s all become such a problem that it really isn’t worth booking an overseas trip any more. The cost of the visa, not to mention the form filling involved in getting one, is a great incentive to holiday at home. The really puzzling thing about all this though is that South Africans could travel anywhere with ease when South Africa was a racist pariah state on the sanctions list. Now, 16 years into democracy, South Africans are treated like lepers by the rest of the world. Maybe it’s time we insisted on visas for visiting Europeans.