South Africa, has, in the recent years become the favourite holiday destination of many Ghanaians and as a Travel Blogger with many years of experience in the field, I took it upon myself to put together a complete travel guide for holidaymakers. And to make this project kosher, I had to embark on several trips to gather genuine and needed information.
There’s no doubt that South Africa’s economy is one of the largest and fastest growing economies on the African continent but the country is being sullied each passing day by some nefarious activities by her immigration officers.
First to meet you on your arrival at the O.R. Tambo International Airport is one of the many immigration officers who I would like to describe as “Mr Corruption”. And, I didn’t miss him when I arrived on a Kenya Airways flight on a fine Saturday morning (April 10, 2017).
On my arrival, the news of a lady who was denied entry by an immigration officer the previous day for no palpable reason got me edgy. I was asked a number of questions by the immigration officer in regards to my visit to his country.
He then asked; “How much do you have on you for your stay in South Africa?” and I answered him “US$3,000”. Then, he started smiling, suggesting to me his interest in my cash – in other words, wanting a share of it.
He then asked of my accommodation arrangements and quizzed whether I had paid for my hotel which I answered “no”.
He told me he had every right to deny me entry into his country because I had not paid for my hotel. In order to extenuate the issue, I explained to him that the hotel only accepts payment on arrival and that was clearly stated on the confirmation of reservation, again assuring him I had my accommodation very well sorted.
That wasn’t the end!
Unconvinced by my explanation, he requested for US $50 or deny deny me entry (and entry denial usually attracts a ban for a specified period). With fears all over me, I quickly handed him the money as requested.
He took me to an office at the airport and still went ahead to place a phone call to the hotel I mentioned to him to verify whether I had booked with them. The hotel confirmed it to him but was only for a night per my agreement with them.
Then came his threat again: “I have to send you back for booking a hotel for just a night when you will be staying for ten days.” I explained to him that based on previous experiences, I only reserve a room for a night when travelling and only extend my stay in that hotel only when I am satisfied with their services or go look for another one.
He then requested for an additional US $50 or else he will report to his head who will ensure they put me on the next flight back to Ghana. “Do I look like a punk to this dude?” I asked myself. I kept pleading and later had to succumb to his threats by paying him US $20.
I’m convinced he knew this experience may be put in a blog post some time to come knowing very well he was dealing with a Travel Blogger. Well I told him am one. He didn’t hesitate to give me his phone number when I requested and assured me to count on him anytime I may need him.
I wasn’t the only one who went through this ordeal.
Richard Koomson (a tourist from Ghana) had a rather funny experience when immigration officers asked him to bribe them half his hotel rate for his entire stay. Funny, isn’t it? He ended up paying US$ 100 out of the requested US$250 after spending half an hour explaining to them why he did not pay for his hotel in advance.
One Stephen Mensah also encountered similar incident with security officials at the airport. He was told immigration officials erred in granting him entry into the country and was forced to bribe officials to be granted entry. He was fortunate enough to have his R200 accepted.
Prince Osei Tutu (Ghanaian businessman visiting his girlfriend) had no option than to empty his wallet to satisfy some unscrupulous immigration officials. He also ended up paying an amount of US $100 as he had the rest of his money hidden elsewhere.
Lydia Twumwaa (a tourist from Ghana) who had met all conditions to travel to South Africa was denied entry and sent back to Ghana because she did not understand the “language” when she was asked to pay for an entry stamp. I’m sure you understand this “language”.
Another tourist is currently serving a year ban from entering South Africa for overstaying his VISA after he refused to pay the requested bribe of US$ 200 (his US$20 offer was not accepted).
This is how corrupt and enraging immigration officers at the O.R. Tambo International Airport can be. They have no shame and demand monies as if it’s legitimate or legal and they do it without flinching, and even give orders with gusto, without considering the visitor’s status. They do not care about the consequences of their absurd acts; neither do they care they could be challenged and dismissed. From all indications, there’s absolutely no visible discipline there.
Officials at the O.R. Tambo Airport are always finding means to extort monies from travellers. Extorting money from travellers is the norm at the OR Tambo Airport as other officers look on and smile while you are being spoken to in ‘figures’.
Many have lost interest in visiting South Africa as immigration officers welcome you with unplanned bills from whoever they get in contact with. I know for sure that South Africa tourism sector alone generates much revenue and plays a major role in driving their economy.
There are so many people out there that I’m convinced have fallen victims to these demands and threats of corrupt immigration officers who haven’t been bold enough to voice their experiences. It’s disgusting and very pathetic!
Like many others, I spent over US $3,000 during my 10-day stay. So just imagine the loss if the country drives visitors away through bribery and corruption right at the airport. One cannot fail to perceive the air of hostility that envelops the atmosphere at the airport on arrival and also, departure.
So, the question is, who at all is accountable for these corrupt practices?
I hope this corrupt attitude has not gotten to top management at the airport. The response this blog post receives from them would tell the world if this has eaten to the top. The authorities must act now to bring sanity to the O.R. Tambo International Airport.
Now, many of us see travelling to South Africa as ‘going to war’ because you literally battle with the security officials as soon as you arrive. It’s a pity!
I hope this post is helpful to others who are still planning the great South African adventure. Just be prepared at the airport!