Who cares about visas? There is so much else going on in SA it’s sometimes a wonder why there is so much attention paid to this one issue.
Surely employment and inequality, let alone Eskom, are more important issues to be grappling with? Yet such a view would totally misunderstand the central nature that visas have taken up within the reform nexus of policy in SA.
Visas are so important precisely because they are so simple to fix and so frustrating (especially for the tourism industry but also business at large) in the lack of action.
There have been two highly specific state of the nation commitments to fix both the tourism and business visa issues, as well as numerous mentioned throughout the past year by the most senior politicians. Yet no meaningful steps forward have been taken.
Visas are an important issue, partly for the random reason that it has been alighted on by (quite literally) everyone as a seminal and single point of focus to measure the reformist credentials of President Cyril Ramaphosa.
This speaks to the strategic need to focus attention but also the real deep need for skills transfer (ie importing skills from abroad) to boost productivity and kickstart growth (let alone external skills to fix Eskom to which government seems inexplicably opposed), the ability to short circuit some of the constraining factors against growth and so lead to more job creation.
It is also crucial for the most labour-absorptive sectors — tourism. SA struggles to define a meaningful external trade offering that is also labour intensive. Tourism wins on every front and plays to the country’s natural endowment and strengths.
Tourism has employment multiplier effects of about 1.5 times and investment multipliers of about 20 times. The Public-Private Growth Initiative estimates that with better operating conditions (including visas) a R31bn direct investment could leverage R633bn of indirect investment in the five years until 2023. Similarly in such a scenario employment could rise from 880,000 now to about 1.2-million.
It should also be a political-vote winner surely.
Tourism is a quick way to boost employment and local content and services when you only have had one year to an election and are in dire need of holding on to key vote share levels. It is conceivable that a national visa/tourism turnaround strategy properly implemented in February 2018 could have turned the 2019 growth dial.
The government has been told continually by captains of industry, the Public Private Growth Initiative process, business leaders, the investment lions and the media that this is an issue of critical importance, yet nothing has happened.
Why? Because political capital has not been deployed and fundamentally this is an example of how the mechanical functioning of the state is broken.
Political choices have been transferred to policy choices (in other words the announcements have been made) yet political capital is then not deployed to ensure implementation occurs, accountability is guaranteed, outcomes measured and feedback loops created.