Britain no longer trusts South African passports. The country’s Home Secretary says South Africans will now need to apply for visas to enter Britain.
About 420 000 South Africans visit the UK every year and could to date enter visa-free under most circumstances.
The Associated Press reports Britain sees the SA Department of Home Affairs` (DHA) leaky passport issuing system as a major threat to its own security, especially from violent Islamic extremists.
Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula yesterday told the National Assembly the British government had informed Pretoria that it took the decision “based on its concern regarding the ease with which non-South Africans can acquire genuine South African travel documents from the proper issuing authority and use them to travel to the UK”.
She says London assured her the “decision to introduce visas is open to ongoing review”.
“The South African government has accepted this decision and respects the prerogative of the UK government to take such a sovereign decision. We have undertaken to continue current engagements aimed at resolving some of the concerns that have been advanced by them in this regard,” Mapisa Nqakula said.
The measure comes into effect from 3 March. Britain warned SA six months ago it would impose visa requirements on the country`s citizens if the DHA did not address London`s concerns. The visa will cost £65.
The AP says British security and intelligence officials have warned of an increasing risk from Islamic extremists using South Africa as a transit point and planning plots there.
They have said future attacks on Britain could be directed from countries other than Pakistan — where dozens of Britons with family ties have traveled for terrorist training or have been linked to recent terror plots.
“We are completing some of the biggest ever changes to strengthen Britain’s border security,” UK Home minister Jacqui Smith said in the House of Commons.
Prosecutors in the London trial of several men accused of plotting to blow up at least seven trans-Atlantic commercial flights said last year that a suspect had flown into Britain from South Africa to lead the final stages of the plan.
Mohammed Gulzar traveled to Britain from South Africa via Mauritius in July 2006.
Gulzar was acquitted on all charges over the plot, but law enforcement officials said the case highlighted the potential for terror suspects to use South Africa as a transit point. A retrial is scheduled for later this month.
Bloomberg notes SA is not alone. Also affected are Bolivia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Venezuela.
Last July Britain warned 11 countries –including SA – that they needed to demonstrate improvements in matters such as passport integrity, efficient deportation of their nationals from the UK and levels of illegal working in Britain. Botswana, Brazil, Mauritius, Malaysia, Namibia, Trinidad and Tobago are now deemed to have improved, a spokeswoman for the Home Office told Bloomberg.