If you’re a foreigner married to a South African, congratulations: we really are the very nicest people in the world to be married to. Too bad, though, that you will have to go back to wherever it is you came from to prove that you really are you – even if you’ve been living in this country for years, happily producing broods of little half-South Africans.
If you’re, say, a rocket scientist, a bio-molecular astrophysicist, or a newspaper columnist (one of those scarce and valuable skills we need more of if we’re going to grow our economy), you’re going to have to jump through a whole heap of hoops to convince our Department of Home Affairs that they should let you in. And genuine foreign investors can jolly well stick their money and their factories in any other country if Home Affairs doesn’t like the look of them. This because, nowadays, Home Affairs takes security very, very seriously.
(The new-found security obsession of what used to be considered the world’s worst government department does rather bring to mind that phrase that has to do with horses bolting and locking stable doors. Until very recently our borders were beyond porous and South African passports could be bought at any old flea market almost anywhere in the world.)
But not any more, not since tough guy Malusi Gigaba took over at Home Affairs a few months ago. Now we have a department of paper shufflers determined to keep us all safe. About time too (the police gave up long ago on the business of keeping people safe and secure).
But the regulations that Home Affairs’ blunt-instrument law-drafters have come up with are not exactly winning them friends and influencing people.
Most recently it was the airlines that were up in arms over Home Affairs’ brilliant idea that nobody should be allowed to travel to South Africa with a child if that child did not have an unabridged birth certificate.
All over the world millions of very nice people with nice steady jobs they have worked at for 30-odd years have been saving all their lives to come on holiday to South Africa so that they can point their Nokias at our crocodiles, get a suntan and drink cheap beer.
The problem the airlines have with this unabridged birth-certificate story is that Kenya also has cheap beer and lots of sunshine.
And crocodiles. In fact, thanks to that carefully stage-managed annual migration lark, Kenya’s crocodiles are much more famous than our crocodiles. (A big drawcard for nice rich foreign people with steady jobs used to be our rhinos but, well, we’re sort of running out of those .)
Last week the mandarins at Home Affairs agreed, in the most grudging tones, that they would deign to speak to the meddling, protesting airlines, which wanted the unabridged-certificate wheeze postponed for a year.
This is good news. Perhaps Mr and Mrs Airline can explain to the aunties at Home Affairs how things work: “We fly in lots of foreign tourists who spend lots of money in our country having a wonderful time. The money these nice rich people spend creates jobs.
“All of the people looking after them – the hotels, the bus operators, the B&Bs, the restaurants, the shopkeepers the grandchildren buy ‘Hello Kitty Goes to Kruger’ T-shirts from, even the brewers who make the beer – pay things called ‘taxes’.
“And those taxes keep you lot at Home Affairs in your jobs.”
Now I wonder which government department will try to top this act of lunacy. There sure are plenty of them, and they keep growing after every election.