The Department of Home Affairs demonstrates an incompetence endemic to the national government and its culture of corruption, partisan loyalty, and centralised failure. Earlier this year, the Democratic Alliance (DA) warned that tourists may be forced to leave South Africa, due to an immense backlog in processing visa applications, including renewals.

This “incompetence has reached a new low on 21 December 2023, as they issued a directive which will require tourists – who are wishing to extend their stay in South Africa, to leave the country by 29 February 2024,” said Angel Khanyile, Shadow Minister of Home Affairs for the DA.

Already, tourists have to leap through many bureaucratic hoops to visit our country and give us money. Home Affairs is a mess and cannot begin to fulfil its mandate.

Tourism is the lifeblood of the Western Cape economy. While sheer incompetence and an inability (and unwillingness) to work properly is the true cause of this mess, I wouldn’t be surprised if the national government under the African National Congress (ANC) may also be willingly sabotaging tourism to impoverish the DA-run Western Cape further. It would not be the first time that the ANC central government vindictively worked against attempts by the Western Cape government to address poverty and crime.

The Western Cape is functionally its own polity, with its own government, demographics, infrastructure, and separate needs from the rest of the country. It doesn’t need independence, but it does need autonomy: Home rule. South Africa is already legally a federal country, with provinces constitutionally being afforded the right to run their own affairs. But the ANC has pushed the narrative that South Africa is a unitary state, and has prevented provinces from going their own way.

This rejection of federalism has contributed to impoverishment and instability throughout the country. To address these multitudinous problems, provincial governments (notably the Western Cape’s) need to act according to the federal principles within the Constitution and ignore tantrums from the central government.

An important policy that the Western Cape should push for is the ability to issue and govern its own visas. The Western Cape government has already proven to be far more efficient at running anything under its jurisdiction. With this track record, visa issuing and administration for foreigners seeking to enter the Western Cape will be speedier, more efficient, and vastly less corrupt.

Currently, South Africa is well known for issuing visas to individuals associated with terrorist organisations. In fact, this country has become an established hub for terror groups to plan, build capital and wage their violence on other countries.

If the Western Cape ran its own visa regime, it would not only be able to ensure that tourists are issued visas efficiently, but it would also be able to provide better oversight to prevent criminals and terrorists from exploiting the current corrupt visa system to promote their insurgencies.

While South Africa’s visa relations languish, the Western Cape can build good diplomatic relations with other countries, perhaps even achieving visa-free travel with many safe countries, which Western Cape residents can then enjoy as tourists themselves.

The Western Cape government has a responsibility to its people to keep them safe, and to ensure that institutions enable economic growth and prosperity, thereby encouraging even more tourists to bring their money to the province. Enabling Western Cape residents to travel overseas for business and pleasure also fits into this mandate.

Rather than waiting for an incompetent central government to never give permission for such a project, the Western Cape government should seize the initiative and begin establishing its own visa regime. Apologise later. And stop asking permission from vindictive officials who will never give it.

Only through home rule and federalism will South Africa begin to pull its way out of this hole. And it only needs provincial governments to boldly push for the reforms we need in order to prosper.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

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Nicholas Woode-Smith is an Associate at the Free Market Foundation and Western Cape coordinator of the FMF Campaign for Home Rule. He is also a Council Member of the Institute of Race Relations. He is a firm believer in human liberty and reason and supports rational policy that supports freedom and the rule of law. Woode-Smith is an economic historian, political analyst, and fiction author of the Kat Drummond Series and Warpmancer Saga, and has written widely on South African politics, economics and history.