Uganda tour operators have blasted South African authorities for denying them visas for the much-anticipated Africa’s Travel Indaba tourism exhibition, Chimp Corps report.
While the two-day tourism marketing event kicks off on May 2, 2019 at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban, some Ugandan tour operators who paid for the exhibition and other costs have been denied visas by the South African High Commission in Kampala.
“By yesterday (Monday), so many Ugandan tour operators heading to Durban, South Africa have been denied visas,” says Great Lakes Safaris Chief Executive Officer, Amos Wekesa.
He said the Ugandan tour operators have already paid for accommodation, transport and exhibition fees to South African organizers.
“Last month, millions of shillings were lost to South Africa many were denying visas trying to attend WTM, Capetown,” he added.
Efforts to reach South Africa’s Ambassador to Uganda, Solly Mollo did not bear fruit as calls to his known telephone were not picked.
Ironically, Ambassador Solly Mollo was part of the African National Congress (ANC) military that trained in Uganda to pursue the struggle for democracy in South Africa.
Many had hoped his arrival in Uganda three years ago would see him strengthen the ties the two nations forged decades ago.
When Mollo arrived in Uganda in the 1980s he helped establish ANC bases with other cadres.
In a 2016 interview, Mollo explained the relationship between Uganda and South Africa “was not born in boardrooms by decisions, resolutions and memorandums of understanding, but by the struggles of our people for a better life. Our relationship at a political level has been defined in the trenches of battle, by sweat and blood. And therefore, they are more than cordial relations; it’s like family relations.”
However, Ugandans continue to complain about the harsh restriction and loss of money in applications for the South Africa visas.
Yogi Biriggwa, the country manager of South African Airways says the “issue of Ugandans being denied visas to South Africa is very big” and needs to be “handled at a very higher level.”
She told ChimpReports in an interview that, “Our businesses are suffering. It is a nightmare. Everyday people come to my office to address issues of visas much as that is not my area.”
Yogi also condemned the high charges for visa slapped on Ugandans traveling to South Africa.
“Ugandans pay $115 for visa even if one will spend just a day or two in South Africa. That is too much money for a common Uganda,” said Yogi.
Yogi said “those in higher authority should deal with this issue or even reciprocate.”
Indaba showcases the widest variety of Africa’s best tourism products and attracts international buyers and media from across the world. Africa’s Travel Indaba is owned by South African Tourism and organised by Synergy Business Events (Pty) Ltd.
On his part, Wekesa said the Ugandan tour operators visit Durban every year to push for business and denying Ugandans visas is a very shocking act by South Africans.
“South Africans make over $500m from us every year through MTN, Stanbic bank, ShopRite, Eskom, Game etc and we make less than Shs 100m from them. They don’t even refund the money paid to them and this is unacceptable,” said Wekesa.
Uganda imports cars and other motor vehicles, steel, electrical equipment and pharmaceutical products from South Africa and exports coffee, tea, hides and skins and cocoa.
Recent years have seen South African companies invest in the energy, tourism, banking, agriculture and finance sectors in Uganda.
There are more than over 70 South African companies operating in the country and more expressing interest in entering the market.
Ugandan tour operators have described the South African authorities’ actions as “economic sabotage” as they continue to reap from Ugandans.
“They repatriate so much money from our economy back to their country. What Uganda government should do is denying their business people visas into Uganda as well. They walk into our airport and get visas at the airport without any hustle. They should be made to taste their own medicine like they are doing to us…….Lets wake up if this economy is to grow at all,” charged Wekesa.