With Cape Town’s visa drive, will on-demand ridehailing drive the city to prosperity?

Written by By Suitable Abroad, on behalf of Cape Town International Travel and Tourism Association If you’re planning on booking a rental car or spending time in Cape Town for the Christmas holiday, you may …

Written by By Suitable Abroad, on behalf of Cape Town International Travel and Tourism Association

If you’re planning on booking a rental car or spending time in Cape Town for the Christmas holiday, you may not have to book until December 24, as part of a temporary visa scheme.

The South African city (along with Cape Town International Airport and Hilton Cape Town hotel) have been granted visa-free travel on a temporary basis. Previously, such things were limited to visits up to 10 days, with a maximum stay of 90 days.

With the popularity of international travelers from outside South Africa booming, the city is in dire need of more drivers to bolster its vast rental car fleet.

The scheme has been extended until at least December 24, according to Jacqueline Schroeder, Cape Town’s chief of commerce and international affairs.

South Africa’s visa shortage

According to the Economic Freedom Fighters, South Africa is in need of more than 48,000 driving licenses, and employment regulations encourage employers to recruit expatriates rather than local employees.

On top of that, there are conflicting laws between provinces, leaving local drivers out of a job.

“It’s a logistical nightmare,” says Schroeder.

“Traffic around Cape Town is horrendous. There is nowhere on the city to let them come and go. … It’s a big deal in Cape Town for international truck drivers to get to where they need to go.”

Losing out on money

Zimbabwean driver Kindson Makundi says the current visa restrictions are making it hard for drivers who earn their living delivering luggage to return home.

“Before, we can come and go whenever we want, now it’s like we have to pay (logistic) companies,” he says.

“We don’t have any money. We are like, we are lost, what can we do? … They have changed the rules and regulations and now we can’t go back home.”

Amandla Ngontanywa, a Zambian expatriate, drives a large on-demand truck around Cape Town for a local company.

“They’ve used me already. You really can’t afford to lose money. We are the cheapest cargo in South Africa, so if you buy a truck, you can’t just dump money here,” she says.

“If they mess up the (visa) system it’s going to affect us.”

When done right, on-demand services bring speed and efficiency to the transportation sector, but when licensing regulations are in place, it’s crucial that a distinction is made between home and away drivers.

It’s difficult for expatriates to negotiate, Ngontanywa explains, if they can’t drive or when they’re far from home, and if they can’t get replacement drivers to take the street.

It’s a problem that needs to be addressed both locally and internationally, as companies stand to lose the most money.

Logistics companies need to be able to monitor their entire supply chain.

In a statement, Cape Town Airport said: “The initiative is based on the request from industry players and businesses to enable a smooth transition.

“The application process is straightforward. The airport has been working with partners to support those who are required to apply in accordance with South African regulations.”

Clearing the road to mobility

With Cape Town in desperate need of trucks, the shortage has led to a high demand for “work visas” (unpaid, short-term contracts) in the middle of the night, and workers’ rights are being threatened.

For example, an expatriate working in a crowded rental car garage on Mandela Bay Road in Cape Town went from an “approved temporary visa” to an emergency work visa only to end up evicted on New Year’s Eve.

“They took away my house, they’ve no respect for workers,” he said.

Another worker received a temporary visa allowing him to stay in the country, but then was still asked to reapply months later, said the worker’s counsel, Arabella Manthago.

The concerns go beyond work visas.

The local government has secured a temporary transportation hub, and a recently reopened bus station. But these efforts have largely failed to stem the flow of tourists, said Ian Pickard, an economist at Oxford Economics.

“Visitors to the United States are worried about the age of vehicles, low English literacy, power outages, and of course safety, particularly in light of what happened in Barcelona,” he says.

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