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Here is your hand-written visa. Welcome to SA`s embassy in Germany, hamstrung by faulty equipment

Source: News24, 11/11/2023

• Staff at South Africa’s embassy in Berlin, Germany are issuing handwritten visas due to faulty printers.
• Officials also have to use private wifi routers to connect to the internet.
• In June, the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation conducted a fact-finding oversight visit to embassies in Germany and Portugal.
Diplomatic staff at South Africa’s mission in Germany, the country`s third largest trading partner, are issuing handwritten visas because printers are faulty, telephones lines are not working, and officials use private routers to connect to wifi.
In June, the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation conducted a fact-finding oversight visit on the status of the vacant state-owned properties under the management of South Africa’s embassies in Germany and Portugal.
On Friday, parties deliberated on the committee’s report during a mini-plenary session in the National Assembly.
`The mission in Berlin is faced with tools of trade not being compatible with the printers, resulting in handwritten visas; telephones not working; and officials using private routers to connect to wifi,` the committee report read.
`The committee delegation asked itself what the understanding could have been with the new service provider to make such a move in modernising ICT.
`It was said that the issues warrant urgent attention of the ministers of International Relations and Cooperation of Home Affairs.
`In the wake of many Germans being caught up in unfortunate incidents of crime in South Africa, Germany is providing support to prevent violence and for efforts to upgrade urban spaces in townships that are particularly affected by violence.`
During their visit to Germany, MPs heard that the mission in Berlin had raised a concern regarding transferred staff shortages and limited budget.
`The Mission is not able to cover all the states in Germany due to budget constraints. The Mission is constrained to do its work to its full potential due to these factors, much as Germany is a developed country, which is also the biggest trading partner with South Africa, with 72 Structured Bilateral Mechanisms (SBMs) with Germany,` the report read.
Furthermore, the report stated that the level of dilapidation in the interior of the vacant state-owned buildings in Bonn and Funchal is immeasurable, with mould everywhere, ripped flooring, ripped ceilings, graffiti on the walls, appliances stolen and basically empty shells.
`The state-owned properties in Bonn and Funchal have been neglected for more than 30 years. They are in sort after areas and they are structurally solid properties, however the State stands to lose money on disposing of them as they are. It was found mind boggling that these properties were left to rot and decay to the level where they are rendered worthless,` it said.
Parliament`s report also highlighted:
• Germany is the third largest source of overseas tourists to South Africa after the UK and US.
• The number of German tourists declined by 86% from 322 720 in 2019 to 44 388 in 2021.
• The numbers again increased by 85% from 2021 to 81 978 during twelve-month period until the end of March 2022.
• In March 2022, South Africa received 16 362 German visitors in comparison to only 2 082 in March 2021.
• The challenges to enhance tourism from Germany to South Africa include cutting of flights between two countries, negative impact of load shedding and perceived lack of safety and security for tourists in South Africa.
• A number of German citizens have either been hijacked or killed in South Africa.
South Africa’s overseas missions have recently come under the spotlight due to several irregularities.
In October 2021, News24 reported that a fact-finding mission to New York, carried out by MPs in December 2019, had found that the piece of land meant to house South Africa`s diplomats did not exist.
The report concluded R118 million was paid on the basis of a misrepresentation to the department the estate agent had bought land to build a suitable and sustainable office building.
International Relations and Cooperation Minster Naledi Pandor once told the National Assembly that the botched R118-million project was a national embarrassment. Pandor put the department`s director-general, Kgabo Mahoai, on precautionary suspension. Mahoai was later dismissed.
Committee chairperson MP Supra Mahumapelo applauded the department for a clean audit, but stressed that existing challenges should be addressed.
`We urge that the audit action plan should be designed to address these recurring errors. We have noted that department continues to fly the SA flag high, whether it is at the United Nations or other multilateral forums. We have witnessed the strengthening of the AU and solutions for African problems,` he said.
IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa said Germany was a strategic investment partner, but the telephone lines at South Africa’s embassy were not working.
`These problems lead one to think of the purpose of these embassies. It is clear that [the embassies’] are not being fulfilled,` he said.
DA MP Mergan Chetty said the committee had been misled to think that the embassies’ ICT modernisation project of migration from the old system to the new, had been completed successfully.
`Also in its recent Quarter 4 performance reporting, the Department gave a rosy picture of 100% completeness of the ICT project in the missions. Further more, we witnessed much to our disbelief, that our Consulate department in Berlin were busy issuing hand written visa documents instead of the computerised version,` he added.

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