Fighting in the DRC will prevent more than a million from voting in election - rights group

-The International Crisis Group says more than a million people will fail to vote in the DRC because of conflict in the east.

-The Independent National Electoral Commission`s credibility is in question.

-The African Union and international actors were urged to work closely to help the DRC hold credible elections.

More than a million people have been disenfranchised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) some two months before the general elections, the International Crisis Group (ICG) claims.

This was due to fighting mostly in the eastern part of the country, in North Kivu and surrounding areas, where rebel groups are concentrated, the rights group said.

`Fighting in the east and other areas has left more than a million citizens without voter cards,` said the ICG in its latest report titled `Elections in DR Congo: Limiting the Risk of Violence`.

President Felix Tshisekedi will be seeking a second and last constitutional term in the December poll. He will probably face challenges from 23 other candidates whose names are before the Independent National Electoral Commission, also known by its French name, Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI).

In the coming weeks, the CENI is expected to vet the candidates and come up with a final list.

The ICG said there were concerns that the results would be contested because of an uneven electoral playing field.

`The opposition, faced with increased government repression and a National Independent Electoral Commission that they see as biased in favour of the ruling party, is tempted to reject each step,` the report says.

Onesphore Sematumba, ICG analyst for the DRC and Burundi, said international partners, as well as the African Union (AU), should work with political stakeholders in the DRC to avoid bloodshed in the event of disputed results.

He said: 

International actors, starting with African powers influential in Kinshasa, as well as Western actors, should encourage the government and opposition to find compromises on contentious issues and stand ready to offer mediation if the results are contested.

Learning from the election of 2018 that ushered Tshisekedi into office, the ICG said there was already a high rate of `localised violence`, intimidation of some candidates, and chances of manipulation on the part of CENI.

If the electoral body was not adequately funded, there would be room for corruption.

Richard Moncrieff, the ICG`s acting director of the Great Lakes Project, said the CENI has a central role to play in bringing together political parties to discuss the country`s preparedness for the polls. 

`It is imperative that the Independent National Electoral Commission maintain a high level of transparency to facilitate discussions between the political parties on the possibility of a postponement, if necessary,` he said.

Some of the suggestions tabled by ICG to help the DRC move towards more transparent, credible, and violence-free elections are:

In order to allay concerns about impartiality, the government should bolster trust in the security forces by guaranteeing a regional balance in the present recruitment exercise.

After the state of siege in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri was partially lifted, authorities in these regions need to be especially watchful to guarantee that political liberties are respected during the election season.

All parties must be able to run for office if the government is to maintain control of its security services.

Restrictions on political gatherings should be minimised, and party leaders should urge their followers to refrain from using violence in demonstrations.

In December 2005, after a constitutional referendum, multi-party elections returned to the DRC after 46 years.

The elections held in July 2006 saw Joseph Kabila elected after running the country since the death of his father Laurent Kabila in 2001.

Kabila was re-elected in 2011, and his term ended in 2016, but was extended by two years due to the ongoing conflict in the eastern parts of the country.

In 2018, Kabila was not on the ballot as Tshisekedi earned his first presidential term, although there were concerns of potential electoral fraud.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

De Lille wants visa waiver for Chinese & Indian nationals to boost tourism

-Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille wants visa requirements for Chinese and Indian nationals to be eased or waived.

-The government has identified the development of the tourism industry as key to reducing SA`s unemployment rate.

-De Lille is also working to on plans to ensure visitors remain safe following a series of high-profile attacks.

South Africa’s tourism minister is pushing for visa requirements to be eased or waived for Chinese and Indian nationals to boost visitor numbers from the world’s most populous nations. 

`Visas are a problem,` Patricia de Lille, who was appointed to her post in March, said in an interview in Bloomberg’s Cape Town office on Thursday. `I see my role as dealing with regulations, the visa issues, regulations around tour operating licenses and then, air access, getting more flights to come to South Africa.`

The government has identified the development of the tourism industry as key to reducing a 33% unemployment rate, but has long faced criticism that it makes it too difficult to enter the country.  The visa system is overseen by Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who acknowledges its deficiencies, but complains that he lacks the staff and budget to fix it. An online visa system that’s available in about 34 countries doesn’t work properly and while some qualification requirements have been dropped, including the submission of bank statements, security screening continues to result in delays. De Lille was tasked with attracting at least 10 million visitors in the year through March, the same as before the global pandemic struck, and is targeting 15 million by 2030. That’s down from a previous goal of 21 million, a revision necessitated by changing global travel patterns.De Lille said she intends to meet with Motsoaledi ahead of a visit to Beijing next month to discuss whether visas can be waived for Chinese and Indian visitors for limited-duration stays, a concession already extended to those from Brazil, Russia, the US and UK. 

The US, UK and Germany account for the largest number of non-African visitors to South Africa, but arrivals from China and India are surging and can rise further if visa rules are eased, the minister said.

`It’s work in progress, but you have to consider the mandate` of other government departments and ministries in dealing with the visa issue, she said. 

Safety Measures

De Lille’s department is also working to ensure visitors remain safe following a series of attacks that have scarred the country’s international reputation. It has allocated R174 million to train 2 300 safety monitors, who will be deployed from December to help secure 59 key locations, including national parks and airports.  

The tourism industry has meanwhile invested in a mobile-phone application that will enable visitors to summon help from private security companies and the police at the push of a button if they are attacked. Companies are also helping patrol roads leading to the Kruger National Park, the country’s biggest wildlife reserve, because the police don’t have the capacity.  

`Let me assure you that 99% of tourists that come to South Africa go back home safely,` De Lille said. `You can never really stop these crooks, they are always one step ahead of you, so it’s best to warn people` which areas to avoid and ensure they are well informed about potential dangers, she said.  

De Lille heads the Good party, and is the only opposition leader in the cabinet. While she said she serves at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s pleasure, she’s willing to be reappointed after next year’s election if asked. 

She declined to say whether her party would consider entering into an alliance with the ruling African National Congress should its support drop below 50%, as some polls suggest, saying a decision will likely only be taken after the vote.

The system is offline: Home Affairs offices lost 36 000 hours of work in first half of 2023

• Home Affairs departments were non-operational for more 36 000 hours in the first half of 2023.

• South Africans are not informed when the system is down, which means people travel long distances to get to branches only to be turned away empty handed.

• The State Information Technology Agency has invested R400 million to modernise and upgrade the networks.

Offline systems are bringing the Department of Home Affairs to its knees as offices across the country lost more than 36 000 hours of work in the first half of 2023, primarily due to system downtime.

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi revealed this in his response to two sets of parliamentary questions from the DA`s home affairs spokesperson, Adrian Roos.

He said his department`s offices were not operational for a collective 36 772 hours from January to May this year.

Home Affairs offices are responsible for the provision of vital documents, such as passports, IDs, and birth certificates, which people need in their daily lives.

In fact, in a 2021 National Council of Provinces budget debate in 2021, Motsoaledi said: `Home Affairs is the anchor of economic activity, social activity, and the legal system of the country.`

Motsoaledi previously blamed the downtime on the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), which provides the department with many of its IT systems.

At the 2021 budget debate, he even described the department`s IT systems as the `original sin of home affairs`.

But the downtime data he has now provided, paints a different picture, according to Roos.

In the first three months of the year, the Department of Home Affairs` SITA system had 95% uptime, but there were more than 13 000 hours of system downtime.

In the three months that followed, the SITA system had average uptime of 86%, but 8 600 hours were lost to system downtime.

This means that the Department of Home Affairs` IT systems had more downtime in the months that SITA`s performance was better, Roos argued.

`Other things are going on here. This story that it`s a SITA thing [is] the minister`s narrative and he wants this to be driven, but this shows it`s not right.`

SITA spokesperson Tlali Tlali explained that there were multiple points of failure through the home affairs value chain.

System downtime, he said, can be caused by copper cable vandalism, software that takes up huge memory space, and the upgrading of infrastructure.

He said that SITA invested R400 million to modernise and upgrade the networks.

But this does not remove the responsibility of the Department of Home Affairs to upgrade its package with SITA, Tlali added.

News24 asked the Department of Home Affairs for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Completely untenable

DA MP Benedicta van Minnen said the waiting times were `completely untenable`.

`Accessing government services should not come with such huge barriers,` she said.

She added that she was aware of people who sleep outside the Somerset West branch to hold their place for the next day.

`State services should not be forcing residents to be doing that to access services.`

Roos added that the department should implement systems that allow people to check whether the system is down at a branch.

He said some people may need to travel long distances, only to be turned away at a branch when they find out the system is down.

What people had to say

News24 visited a home affairs branch and spoke to people in the parking area.

South Africa’s asylum backlog worsens the suffering of applicants

Yvette Johnson was visiting the branch for the third time in the past few weeks to apply for an ID and passport.

The last time she was at the branch she was told that their system was down, but that she could wait in the queue in case it goes back online again. 

She is self-employed and said she wasted her day on both occasions.  After a morning in the queue, she was able to apply for her ID, but has to return for her passport.

She described the situation as a `gamble`.

`You have to come back again and again and you don`t know what you are going to get,` she said.

On Johnsons` advice, News24 had a look at the bathroom of the branch. There was a water leak from the urinal, which flooded the floor. 

A man, who would only be identified as Mark, was visiting the branch for the second time with his family. 

He said online resources did indicate what documents would be required at the branch, and added that some of the pages on the Home Affairs website were out of date. 

It was north of 30 degrees Celsius on the day, and two families who were registering their children told News24 that they had spent hours in the queue.

Motsoaledi calls for audit of foreign-owned spaza shops

Municipalities across the country are being urged to carry out audits on spaza shops owned by foreign nationals. 

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has made the call.

There are renewed concerns over the safety of goods sold at such outlets after the recent deaths of several children in Gauteng and the Free State.

The children fell sick after allegedly consuming products bought from their local spaza shops. 

Last month, a shop owner was arrested in eThekwini for selling expired goods. 

In Clare Estate, two spaza shops were closed down, and others were fined for improper use of premises.

Motsoaledi said the government also expects all spaza shops to be tax-compliant.

`All the spaza shops must be registered, and when you register, you must show us papers, legal papers - why you are here? How did you come to South Africa? Who gave you the permission to be here?

`If you don`t have such papers, you can`t run a spaza shop. Those who will produce papers and say, `Yes I`m here, I`ve been given papers by the department` they must register for tax.`

`The inspectors, especially health inspectors, must help us. You can`t run a business on the same premises where you run a business, you sleep in there, you cook in there, you eat in there.`

How online payments are helping visitors rediscover SA

According to recent data from the South African Minister of Tourism, Patricia de Lille, more than 5.8 million people visited the country last year and more are expected in the coming years.

Travel has rebounded healthily from the pandemic and is expected to keep growing by an estimated 7.6% annually. Growth like this has been fuelled, in part by the combination of South Africa’s weak currency, when compared with many countries in the global north, and the ease that online payments give travellers.

The convenience of online payments has not only simplified the booking process but has also instilled new-found confidence in travellers as they embark on their adventures.

Michael Puffett, Senior Business Development Manager at Profitroom Africa, says: “The beauty of online payments is the fact that it`s not just about convenience it`s about safety too. Travellers can now make themselves less susceptible to theft and fraud. Furthermore, by offering travellers multiple payment options from credit cards to digital wall hotels can also amplify their booking potential. So, it is a win-win for everyone.”

Lee-Anne Singer, Chairperson of South African hospitality association FEDHASA in the Cape, says: “It is encouraging to see local and international travel improve so much. Visitors this year spent more than R25 billion (€1.2bn) and it looks as if that number will only continue to increase. Having a safe and convenient digital payments infrastructure is a key part of that growth.”

Safe, secure, convenient

One of the primary reasons for the popularity of online payments in the South African travel landscape is the stringent security measures employed by travel websites. Encryption technologies, reinforced by multi-layered security protocols, are deployed to safeguard users` sensitive financial information. This ensures that travellers can confidently complete transactions without the worry of data breaches or fraudulent activities.

Premium booking platform for hotels and resorts, Profitroom, has recently teamed up with digital payment specialists, Callpay, to enhance the safety, security, and convenience of online payments for travellers. As part of this collaboration, Profitroom plans to integrate scheduled token payments on selected payment gateways. This token will allow travellers to schedule payments on a specific date, such as seven days prior to check-in.

Andre Knobel, Head of Operations at Callpay, adds: “Thanks to industry-leading encryption standards we have been able to create an incredibly safe digital payments ecosystem that blends safety with convenience. This makes South Africa an appealing place to visit as international travellers can have the peace of mind that their data is secure.”

Partners in payments

The success of this combination has led to Profitroom and Callpay joining forces in a move that will help bolster the online payments landscape.

Puffett concludes: “With a shared vision of fostering innovation and bringing value to our client bases, partnering with Callpay aligns perfectly with what we want to be able to offer our clients. Payment gateway solutions have often presented difficulties for some of our clients but with our new partnership, those problems are set to become a thing of the past.