Visas no longer required for inter-country travel

Mozambicans have welcomed the waiving of visas to enter South Africa, announced on Friday by the leaders of both countries at a meeting on strengthening bilateral trade.

The new ruling comes into force on Monday and will also apply to South Africans visiting Mozambique.

It used to cost Mozambicans around R400 (about US $70) in visa fees to enter their economically powerful neighbour - more than most earn in one month. "I'll be very happy when we do not have to pay for our visa. It was just too much money," Lole Buque, a Mozambican businessman, told IRIN.

"It was not just for business that made it difficult, but even to go on holiday or for medical reasons, it was just too much money for us Mozambicans. Now we can more easily think about spending holidays there, and also getting medical treatment," Buque added.

Nigerian doctor Muhammed Olumoh, who works in a private clinic in Maputo, the capital, told IRIN that he also welcomed the decision. Although the clinic has evacuated just a handful of emergency patients to South Africa so far this year, he sometimes also refers those needing specialised care, which is only available across the border.

Mozambicans seeking this kind of medical attention not only had to pay for visas, but also required documentation from South Africa supporting their application, and proof that they had the money to pay for treatment. "Waiving visa requirement will relieve us of this bureaucracy, as well the high expense for the patient," said Olumoh.

The South African authorities believe that relaxing permission for the movement of people between the two countries will also lessen the exploitation of cheap Mozambican labour, particularly on farms in the border areas.

South African President Thabo Mbeki and his Mozambican counterpart, Armando Guebuza, signed the agreement at a Heads of State Economic Bilateral Meeting in Pretoria.

Waiving visas between the two countries is expected to have a marked impact on trade in the region. Mozambique is South Africa's second largest export market in Africa, and trade has increased dramatically over the last few years. South Africa is also Mozambique's largest investor, with key showpiece projects such as the $1.3 billion Mozal Aluminium Smelter, in which it holds 24 percent, and the Sasol gas pipeline.

"Yet, important questions remain," commented Bayano Valy, a reporter for the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre.

"There will be a substantial loss of income for Mozambique from the visa payments made by the ever-increasing numbers of South Africans who visit Mozambique as business people and tourists.

"Also, with the ever-increasing economic ties, Mozambique will have to find ways to protect its own interests, so it does not get swallowed up by South Africa, which is already an economic giant in the region," he told IRIN.