PRETORIA (Reuters) - South Africa’s home affairs minister on Wednesday defended his new policy on visas and blamed an Ebola virus outbreak for deterring Chinese tourists rather than the new visa rules.
Tour operators criticized the minister, Malusi Gigaba, in October for introducing stringent visa rules which they said had caused a sharp drop in Chinese visitors who are now required to make long trips to South African embassies and consulates in designated cities to acquire visas.
They said the rules drawn up by Gigaba had resulted in lost revenue of about $540 million a year.
“The drop happened at a time when there was an Ebola outbreak on the African continent. To blame the drop in tourism numbers on visa requirements is lazy,” Gigaba told Reuters on the sidelines of a meeting between South Africa’s President Jacob Zumathe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said in July that the rules had to be relaxed after a “worrying drop” in visitor numbers, but Gigaba they were needed to guard against child trafficking.
The visa rules were relaxed in October to make it easier for visitors with children and those from India, China and Russia.
“We never made a mistake,” Gigaba said when asked if the rules had been a mistake. “That’s why we didn’t change the regulations. We changed the specifications.”
Gigaba said travel warnings by U.S. and the European Union were unfair toward Africa. The West frequently issues travel warnings after attacks by Islamist insurgents.
“There is certainly hypocrisy in travel warnings. If you consider the scale of incidents in Africa, it’s very low compared to what you are seeing in the EU,” he said referring to last month’s attacks in Paris.
Reporting by Joe Brock; Writing by Peroshni Govender; Editing by James Macharia and Richard Balmforth