The date was set, air ticket ready, and accommodation booked.
After battling unusually heavy Saturday afternoon traffic, I made it to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport just on time.
My flight to Johannesburg aboard South African Airways was for 3.55 p.m. on November 1. Everything went smoothly as I checked in, presented my passport to Immigration and moved on to the international departures lounge.
Until 25 minutes to take off, no one––myself included–– had noticed that there was something wrong with my visa.
At Gate 10, the point where I was supposed to receive a boarding pass and go through the final security check, the lady who scrutinised my visa asked if I had another one.
“Do you have another visa? This one has expired,” she informed me. At first, I assumed she was trying to be funny in a cruel way. However, I sensed the seriousness of the matter when her colleague confirmed the same.
For starters, South African visas simply state the date by which you should have entered. In my case, my visa, which was issued in early October, said I should have entered South Africa “on or before 29/10/14”. That means I was given about three weeks to have travelled.
This was despite the fact that, on my application, I had indicated that I intended to fly out on November 1 – and appended the air tickets.
“Many people get confused how South Africans put their visa travel dates,” the SAA attendant said, in an attempt to pacify me.
My host from the UK and a colleague from Daily Monitor were at the gate with me and were equally taken aback.
We were travelling to attend the Power Reporting conference and thereafter hold meetings with editors of leading South African newspapers.
I had my already checked-in luggage recalled and the process of asking immigration to allow me to exit began.
My passport had been stamped “exit” and had to be stamped “entry”.
On Monday, I made my way to the South African embassy along Nairobi’s Lenana Road to have the visa dates corrected.
When I told the attendant my issue, she immediately gave me a note saying I should collect my passport with the new dates the following day.
Two other people in the queue also had issues with wrong dates.
Assured of a new visa, we moved the flight dates to Tuesday evening, albeit after paying a fee of Sh8900 ($100) to change the ticket.
So, come Tuesday morning, I was at the embassy by 8.30 a.m. I was sandwiched between two people who also wanted their dates changed.
One told me her colleague had been turned away the previous evening at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport over an expired visa. The other said he noticed the mistake before leaving the house.
When my time came, the lady told me: “Sorry, sir, we can’t issue you with a new visa because your event ends tomorrow (Wednesday).”
I asked her why they would not allow me to attend the final day of the conference.
She took my papers to a lady I assumed was the visa issuing officer.
The attendant returned to tell me they could not issue me with a visa because I did not have a new air ticket. I handed her one from my backpack.
She went back to the officer, then told me I did not have a return ticket which was a prerequisite. I pointed out to her the initial ticket, which had my return ticket for Saturday (yesterday).
MEAN SOUTH AFRICANS
She said it does not count as a return ticket as it should be a continuation from the first page. She said I could bring the additional documents and check my visa the following day, but added that the event would have ended by then.
Straightaway, I knew the new bottlenecks had been introduced to deny me a visa. When I insisted, she alerted the security guard to ensure I left the premises. I grabbed my passport and left.
At the back of my mind was the realisation that as the South African government mistreats Kenyans, its citizens do not require a visa to enter Kenya.
They are spared not just the inconvenience of applying for one but also the Sh5,850 fee Kenyans are paying for a South African visa.
In the spirit of reciprocity, Kenya had planned to start requiring visas from Africans. But sources say pressure from the business community and the fear of losing South African tourists led to a reconsideration.
On Thursday, the acting political and diplomatic secretary, Mr John Lanyasinya, told Sunday Nation Kenyans “do not want this matter to come between the good relations that exist between the two countries”.
“Therefore we would like to continue to give dialogue a chance. We have our high commissioner in South Africa (Mr Patrick Wamoto), he is engaging these people every day on this matter.
“We have the high commissioner of South Africa (Mr Ratubatsi Moloi) in Nairobi, and so these matters are being discussed,” Mr Lanyasinya said.
He admitted that Kenyans have been complaining about the “meanness” of South Africa in issuing visas but said “we do not want to rush decisions that may have far-reaching implications over relations because we have a lot of things going on between us.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma were poised to personally resolve the matter, which they have not done yet.
And so for the sake of the “good relations that exist between the two countries”, the government of Kenya will continue according preferential treatment to South Africans even as her citizens get mistreated.