By Athan Tashobya
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in Kigali Tuesday that he is working with his Rwandan counterpart, President Paul Kagame, to significantly improve the bilateral ties between both countries, adding that the issue of visa restrictions against Rwandans traveling to his country should be “considered solved.”
Since 2014, Rwandans have found it difficult to travel to South Africa, with only those traveling on service passports able to go to the country.
This is despite Rwanda’s open visa policy to all African countries, including South Africa.
“Consider (the issue of Rwandans not accessing visas to South Africa) as a matter that is solved. We are working with President Kagame to put relations between Rwanda and South Africa on a much better footing,” said Ramaphosa during yesterday’s Business Forum that was organised as part of the African Union Extra Ordinary Summit that is set to adopt the African Continental Free Trade Area.
Speaking during a panel discussion that tackled financing of intra-Africa trade, Ramaphosa said that it does not make sense for countries to push for a free trade area where people’s movement is still being restricted.
He appeared on the panel alongside Bank of Kigali CEO Diane Karusisi, Equity Bank Group CEO, and Benedict Oramah, the President and Chairman of the Board, African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank),
Ramaphosa said that he and Kagame had agreed to resolve the issue of issuing of visa to Rwandans wanting to visit South Africa, among other issues.
“The challenges that were there are going to be resolved. Our ministers of international relations and cooperation are going to work on this immediately, bring us solutions and President Kagame and I are going to sign it off. We thus consider this matter of visas as solved,” Ramaphosa said.
The most affected people by the visa restrictions are students – some of whom were forced to abandon their courses – as well as businesses and patients seeking medical care from South Africa.
Members of the Private Sector Federation have previously said that South Africa’s visa policy on Rwanda had greatly affected the business community.
Speaking to The New Times, Olivier Nduhungirehe, the State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and East African Community affairs, said that the statement made by President Ramaphosa on Tuesday sheds light on a new beginning for bilateral ties between the two countries.
“We welcome the statement and we will work with the South African government, specifically the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to implement the decision,” Nduhungirehe said.
South Africa’s Ambassador to Rwanda, George N. Twala, told The New Times that it was a “frustrating experience denying visas to sick people and students who wanted to travel to South Africa but noted that since the two Heads of State have spoken, it is a matter of time before a new visa regime is adopted.
“I think it is a welcome development; we will now live it to the Foreign Affairs ministers. I am sure they will guide the process. The specifics of what actually caused it will be overcome as speedy as possible. I don’t have timeframe but I know the heads of state will set the timeframe because they want this thing over,” Twala said.
Meanwhile, Rwamaphosa said during the panel discussion that the African Continental Free Trade Area was a deal that should be supported by all, saying that every African will walk away a winner.
African Heads of State and Government are set to sign the deal today at the Kigali Convention Centre.