South Africa has spent billions upgrading its passport with new security features and introducing a more stringent issuing process but the British visa rules have remained.
Naledi Pandor, the home affairs minister, told MPs last week that there had been “no movement” after talks between the two nations.
“We had been given a promise that following the (London) Olympics, there would be a focus on whether this visa requirement can be lifted,” she said. “There hasn’t been any movement and I think the time has come for us to consider reciprocity.”
Tourism insiders said Miss Pandor’s plan to charge visiting Britons was “hugely concerning” and symptomatic of the “tetchy” relationship that has developed between the two countries.
Last month, Pravin Gordhan, the South African finance minister, accused the UK Government of announcing its aid cut without prior warning to boost its chances in local elections.
One South African tourism chief said concerns by the British about South Africa siding with Russia and China in international debates on Syria, Libya and Burma might also have prompted a revision of the “special relationship”.
“The relationship is tetchy right now and then there was the bilateral slanging match over the aid cut,” he said.
“The British visa decision caused quite a bit of collateral damage. Many prominent South Africans going to the UK for sabbaticals were saying ‘to hell with Britain if that’s how they feel about us’.”
But others raised concerns about South Africa shooting itself in the foot with a “tit for tat” move. Britain continues to be South Africa’s largest overseas tourism market, with 438,023 British visitors last year.
“It is hugely concerning,” said one Cape Town-based tourism source. “South African needs to streamline visa processes and access to the country, not create barriers of entry for our visitors.”
“It would definitely have a chilling effect,” a spokesman for South Africa’s Tourism Ministry agreed.
Ronnie Mamoepa, the Home Affairs spokesman, denied that the minister was acting out of “frustration” at Britain’s failure to review its visa rules. He said any firm decision had to be approved by Cabinet.
“The original rule from Britain was not a good idea but states cannot act on frustration, they must act on principles,” he said.
“There are ebbs and flows in any relationship – it doesn’t mean South Africa doesn’t view the UK as a strategic partner but that partnership must be based on equality.”
A British Home Office spokesman said it continues to “work closely with South Africa to address immigration issues on both sides, improve our visa service and maintain the security of our border”.