Keneilwe Sarah Miffie
Following a five-month-long ban and travel restrictions dating as far back as last year, the British government announced that it has finally taken South Africa off its red list. From Monday, October 11, South African travellers can now visit the United Kingdom.
This is great news for the South African tourism sector, which suffered immensely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. When visiting the UK, fully vaccinated travellers can skip the 10-day mandatory quarantine, provided they can produce a negative Covid-19 test result. Those who are not vaccinated will, unfortunately, have to quarantine.
Earlier this year, I asked if this was the way we were going to travel going forward. My question, at the time, was met with mixed reactions: some even saying it was too early to be making such utterances. The announcement made on Thursday is a breakthrough the tourism industry has been waiting for.
This means tourism businesses can remain open, and people can retain their jobs. The UK is considered one of the biggest contributors to our tourism sector, and we can now breathe a sigh of relief as things return to “normal”.
In September, my partner and I wanted to visit Ghana. I was dying to visit the markets, and I had a budget already set aside for my African prints. I was ready to learn Akan, the most widely spoken language there. However, the visa costs and vaccination requirements made travelling to Ghana almost impossible.
When we travel, my partner and I – it’s now for now. So how were we supposed to wait up to 12 weeks to obtain our visas when September only has four? The two thousand rand visa cost also didn't make sense.
Then we decided, let's do SADC – no visa required there. Quad biking on the dunes in Namibia seemed like a good idea. We were going to drive from Johannesburg to Botswana, spend the night there before driving another six hours to Swakopmund. We were excited. Who wouldn't be? Imagine the places we’d see, the people we’d meet.
Well, until we found out that we required a negative Covid-19 result not older than 72 hours when entering Botswana. "I'm fully vaccinated", I said to the lady on the other side of the telephone. I was distraught when she told me it didn't matter. Botswana still required that I produce negative results at the border.
If we get tested here in South Africa, we can still leave Botswana and cross into Namibia. But what happens on our way back? I have no issues taking a Covid-19 test. For me, it was the idea of having to locate a testing centre in a foreign country and paying for the actual test. My medical aid allows me only two tests per annum. I used the last one when we went to Mozambique at the beginning of August. We all know what the exchange rate is between our Rand and Pula.
Disappointed, I suggested we go to Namibia via the Northern Cape, adding that the distance is shorter and we could use Springbok as a pit-stop – which is approximately 10 hours from Johannesburg. It would probably take us even longer because we always stop for pictures, refreshments and so on. But who cares? It's a holiday.
So, we called the Namibian embassy, only to get told we need a negative test that's not older than seven days to be allowed into the country. I told the gentleman assisting us that I was fully vaccinated. "It doesn't matter", he told me. Looking back at our stay in Kakamas, I realised then how close we were to the Namibian border. Now, here was our moment to finally meet the Himba tribe.
I was ready to put red clay on my locks. I wanted to dance with the women of the tribe, visit the Windhoek brewery and taste the beer. I'm not a beer fan, but this was going to be an experience and one of the things one must try when you're there, I'm told. But here was Covid-19 interfering with our travel plans, yet again.
At this stage, I'm heartbroken and bitter. Thinking, I can understand being on the UK red list. It is a different continent. This is Africa. Surely, I should be allowed to move around. Although I understand the rationale behind observing Covid-19 protocols, it does make it difficult to travel beyond South African borders.
Well, fortunately for us, we live in a beautiful country with plenty of travel options. We fill up our tank, my partner and I, and drive down to the Umdloti Beach in Kwa-Zulu Natal. As a fully vaccinated traveller, I’m now allowed to skip quarantine when visiting the UK, and it would be interesting to see if SADC and the rest of Africa will ease some restrictions for vaccinated travellers like myself.
Miffie is a travel writer and consultant