x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE and South Africa to discuss visa-free travel for citizens

"The UAE has long requested revisiting the visa rules for Emiratis in South Africa and we will openly discuss the issue to find the best-suited arrangement," says South Africa's new ambassador

ABU DHABI // South Africa and the UAE will debate visa-free access for their citizens later this year, South Africa’s new ambassador said yesterday.

Emiratis and South Africans currently require visas to travel to either country, with visas to South Africa taking two to five days to process and visas to the UAE being costly and time-consuming, ambassador Mpetjane Kgaogelo Lekgoro said.

The countries will also discuss landing-rights agreements, investment and security cooperation and the talks will culminate in the formation of the first South Africa-UAE Joint Commission.

The commission will be co-chaired by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation.

Mr Lekgoro arrived in the UAE in April to start his four-year tenure as the country’s ambassador.

“This is my first posting and I am a political appointee,” said the member of the South African parliament who used to be an anti-apartheid political activist.

Mr Lekgoro said the relationship between South Africa and the UAE was solid but he hoped it would grow by developing more agreements and investment opportunities.

“The UAE has long requested revisiting the visa rules for Emiratis in South Africa and we will openly discuss the issue to find the best-suited arrangement for both our countries’ citizens,” he said.

Mr Lekgoro said that security and defence ties between the two countries would be strengthened with an agreement that would be discussed later this year.

“The South African police commissioner will be meeting with top-level officials to lay the groundwork for the agreement,” he said.

These agreements would include an extradition treaty and judicial cooperation.

The UAE and South Africa cooperated in the investigation into the Dubai assassination of Hamas military commander Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in 2010, which was carried out by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.

South Africa provided details on the escaped suspects that were vital to the Dubai Police investigation.

Mr Lekgoro said security and defence comprised a large portion of the US$3 billion (Dh11bn) trade between South Africa and the UAE last year.  “[Trade] included arms sales, training, technology transfers and much more,” he said.

More than 65,000 South Africans live in the UAE.

“The South African expats in the UAE are mostly highly skilled workers; doctors, pilots, engineers and so on,” he said.

amustafa@thenational.ae