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South Africa to Review Tourist Visa Rules

FILE - Sunset over the promenade in Cape Town, South Africa, Aug. 24, 2014.
FILE - Sunset over the promenade in Cape Town, South Africa, Aug. 24, 2014.

South African President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday ministers would review new visa rules that have hit tourism and stoked tensions within the ruling party.

Last year South Africa implemented regulations requiring visitors to provide biometric data when applying for visas, a problem for people in large countries like China, which only has South African consulates in Beijing and Shanghai.

Further rules implemented in June require parents to carry unabridged birth certificates for their children when travelling to South Africa, a move heavily criticized by the tourism industry and foreign governments.

"We have noted with concern the complaints about the new visa regulations," Zuma told reporters in Pretoria, where he was providing a mid-year review on the economy.

"The ministerial committee will address the unintended consequences of the new immigration regulations on various sectors, including tourism and investment."

The new birth certificate rules have fueled a rare public spat within Zuma's African National Congress (ANC) party.

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said last month the rules had to be changed after visitor numbers dropped, prompting a backlash from Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba who argued they were needed to stem child trafficking.

ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe last week reprimanded both ministers for publicly bickering.

The visa row is the latest headache for Zuma, who is under pressure over sluggish economic growth and high unemployment.

Zuma said the most pressing task for Africa's most developed economy was to ease chronic electricity shortages, which were cutting 1 percent off GDP growth.

South Africa's economy grew 1.5 percent last year but Zuma said he hoped this would rise to at least three percent over the next three years if power constraints eased.

South Africa's heavily-indebted state power utility Eskom is struggling to keep the lights on due to insufficient generating capacity, increasing costs for industries like mining and manufacturing and discouraging new investment.

Long-delayed new coal plants are due to be completed in the next 2-3 years and Zuma's government is pursuing a controversial program to bring 9,600 megawatts of nuclear energy onto the grid by 2030.

Zuma said the nuclear plan was at an "advanced stage" and procurement should be concluded within the current financial year.

Zuma's opponents have questioned the high cost and perceived lack of transparency of the nuclear plan, which could cost 400 billion to 1 trillion rand ($32-$81 billion).

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