SA passport not enough. Know your country – in Afrikaans!

OK, we get it! Besides Ryanair’s hugely flawed new test to ensure SA passports aren’t forged, banks globally are more cautious than ever when dealing with South Africans, given our levels of corruption and fraud. But really, scripting questions testing your knowledge of South Africa in Afrikaans? And then blocking bewildered non-Afrikaans speakers from boarding when they get a few wrong? Ryanair obviously failed to do some basic language demographics research. Most South Africans speak Zulu, followed by English, according to four-year-old StatsSA data. Posing security questions in Zulu would surely discriminate against a substantial proportion of travellers, while I suspect English today is the most intelligible written language. Littered with spelling mistakes and poor grammar, the questionnaire looks like a hurriedly thrown-together stop gap measure to try and reduce what Ryanair claims is a mounting number of people attempting to fly on fraudulent South African passports. How they got them probably points to yet another Home Affairs scandal. This article first appeared on MyBroadband. – Chris Bateman

Ryanair admits creating Afrikaans test that blocked South Africans at airports

By Jan Vermeulen

Low-cost airline Ryanair has confirmed it asked travellers with South African passports to complete a quiz in Afrikaans before being allowed to board their planes, News24 reported.

The airline reportedly said it is responsible for ensuring passengers are correctly documented for travel to their destination, per Section 40 of the UK Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. It said there had been a recent increase in passengers attempting to travel on fraudulent South African passports.

Ryanair also said it conducts “procedural security profiling” to identify passengers who must complete its test. “Our handling agents may request passengers travelling on a South African passport, and who are flagged during procedural security profiling, to complete a simple questionnaire, as an additional safety assessment to confirm whether they are correctly documented before travel,” the airline stated.

“As language proficiency is the least intrusive further safety assessment method, this questionnaire is conducted through Afrikaans, one of South Africa’s most prevalent official languages.”

According to Stats SA, Afrikaans is South Africa’s third most-spoken home language (12.2%) and tied for the third most-used language outside the home with Sepedi (9.7%).

Stats SA’s latest data on the most-spoken languages in South Africa comes from its 2018 General Household Survey. The 2019 and 2020 surveys do not contain language demographic data.

isiZulu was the most prominent home language and the most-spoken language outside the home. Over a quarter of South Africans reported speaking the language inside and outside the home. Although English was the sixth-largest home language (8.1%), it was the second most-spoken language in South Africa outside the home (16.6%).

Crucially, Stats SA’s data does not measure literacy in these languages.

Ryanair’s comments to News24 follow MyBroadband’s report about complaints from travellers claiming to have received the test, several of which included photographs of the question paper.

One of the travellers, Catherine Bronze, agreed to a voice call on Facebook messenger on Thursday and told MyBroadband that Ryanair prevented her and her 11-year-old son from boarding their plane. Her incident had occurred about two weeks prior.

She said an official told her the form had been put in place by the British Government. They were flying from Ireland West Airport Knock to the UK after visiting her daughter in the Republic of Ireland.

Despite providing the officials with her and her sons’ biometric residence permits, she was forced to leave the airport and return to her daughter when she didn’t score full marks on the test. Her husband, who has a British passport, flew to Dublin to fetch them, and they managed to leave via Dublin airport.

SAFM’s Stephen Groottes interviewed Nomfundo Dlamini, programme manager for productive cities at the South African Cities Network, who said several of her colleagues with UK work permits were also presented with the form.

Complaints included South Africans flying from Portugal, Ibiza and Dublin to London, and people flying from the UK to the Republic of Ireland.

Ryanair’s test questions are reproduced in the table below. The original Afrikaans is on the left, including poor grammar and typographical errors.

Despite several attempts to contact Ryanair’s media relations department for comment, the low-cost airline did not respond to our questions.

MyBroadband reached out to the British High Commission in South Africa, the South African High Commission in London, and the South African Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco). None answered their phones or responded to emails.

However, the British High Commission in South Africa said in a post on Twitter that the questionnaire was not a UK government requirement.

Dirco had also told Eyewitness News’ radio journalists for 702 on Friday evening that it was deeply concerned about the reports and was still investigating the matter with its UK counterparts.

Only the Irish Foreign Affairs department responded to MyBroadband’s requests for comment. Second secretary for the Embassy of Ireland in South Africa, Paul Evans, said that Irish authorities do not require a language proficiency or general knowledge test.

However, Evans also highlighted that all travellers must be able to satisfy the Immigration Officer at the Port of Entry that they have a valid reason for entering Ireland. “You may also be requested by airline staff at check-in to provide additional documentation to support your case,” he said.

This is at the discretion of the airline and includes, but is not limited to:

  • Return ticket
  • Proof of accommodation
  • Bank statements showing you have sufficient funds for the duration of the stay
  • Passport must be valid for six months before the date of return, and must have two blank pages
  • Medical/travel insurance

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