Malusi Gigaba. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Malusi Gigaba. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

HOME Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba and his department have, for the past year, pursued an immigration reform strategy that purports to protect children from trafficking and the nation from forces that threaten national security. They have done this with arrogant, if asinine, consistency. English writer John Heywood gave us the aphorism: "There are none so blind as those who will not see."

Perplexed by stubborn inquiries about the footing of the bill for securing his residence, an exasperated President Jacob Zuma invoked "uThixo wase George Goch" (the God of George Goch). Gigaba would probably have been a more deserving object of his exasperation.

Mining and manufacturing are embattled and shedding jobs. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa says load shedding will continue for a year at least. The most optimistic economic growth projections suggest 2.5%. So why would the Cabinet suffer the willy-nilly destruction by the department of an economic segment that has maintained good growth when we need it so much? The Treasury, struggling to keep in check a deteriorating balance of payments, ought to tell Gigaba that tourism and business travel are significant foreign exchange earners. So should the departments of trade and industry and of economic development.

And the Presidency? When Zuma said in his state of the nation address that Ramaphosa would review the ill-conceived immigration laws, we sat up. Nothing. At the World Economic Forum on Africa, a worried Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe told perturbed investors that the myopic legislation would be reviewed urgently because it had unintended consequences. Those consequences were always as predictable as tomorrow — if only Gigaba had the humility to listen to others. There has been no shortage of efforts to advise.

Gigaba often talks about modernising the Department of Home Affairs. Instead of insisting that prospective travellers be biometrically scanned abroad, he and his colleagues in the security cluster should take to the Treasury a solid business case for the installation of state-of-the-art scanning capacity at our ports of entry. This would benefit Home Affairs, the police and the security agencies. It would be infinitely more efficient and cost-effective than this law. There would be no unintended consequences.

If anything, this would stimulate the building of a sophisticated corps of immigration personnel and create employment opportunities for young people, who are adept at working with technology. There is nothing clever about all of this; forwarding-looking countries do it already.

Criminally inclined travellers will always look for loopholes. An attractive option would be our notoriously porous land borders. A border management agency, mooted for more than five years, needs to be brought on stream to complement what would be a sensible security strategy for the protection of citizens and the management of child trafficking.

We are now living with the consequences of Gigaba’s hidebound strategies. They have been extensively reported on. Suffice to say, among others, the International Air Transport Association, which represents providers of 84% of global air traffic, has expressed concern about our immigration measures. It supports the intent of the legislation but disagrees with the execution.

The Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa has voiced its concern and Air China has cancelled flights to SA because of the immigration legislation. A poll in the UK shows that 60% of the people interviewed would reconsider travel to SA because of the requirement for unabridged birth certificates.

A Grant Thornton study shows that the number of lost foreign tourists will have a negative total direct, indirect and induced effect on SA’s economy of R2.6bn this year, and a potential loss of 5,800 jobs.

It is not too late for Gigaba to do the right thing: facilitate a review of his immigration legislation.

• Msimang is the chairman of the Tourism Business Council