Work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
in South Africa
150. The United Kingdom's representation in South
Africa is one of the largest British Posts in the world, reflecting
the country's size and importance, both bilaterally and within
the region. Like most Posts it has a number of different responsibilities
for a number of different areas, such as consular work, visa entry
clearance and promoting trade and investment with the UK. This
is in addition to the Post's purely political work and the promotion
of wider bilateral links. The BBC World Service and the British
Council (the FCO's two largest agencies) also have significant
'regional hubs' in South Africa.
151. There are four principal FCO offices in South
Africa: the High Commission in Pretoria; the Consulate-General
in Cape Town, where the South African Parliament and the largest
body of British expatriates are located; the United Kingdom Trade
and Investment (UKTI) Office in Johannesburg; and the Consulate
General in Durban, which will handle purely trade matters from
the middle of this year. There are also two Honorary Consulates
in Port Elizabeth and East London. The figures for staff numbers
are given in the table below, with comparisons to diplomatic representation
of other nations.
Figure 5: diplomatic representation in South
|United Kingdom total||47
152. In his oral evidence to us, Mr Mullin stated
There is a review of all our operations going on
at the moment so it would be very rash of me to make too many
long-term commitments, but I do expect our staffing in South Africa
to remain broadly as it is for the foreseeable future.
The Minister was referring to an internal review
of staffing and resources worldwide currently being conducted
by the Foreign Office, in the light of its new strategy: "UK
We recommend that, in the light of the importance of the United
Kingdom's relationship with South Africa and the crucial work
being done by the Post there, the level of staffing and resources
allocated to the United Kingdom High Commission in South Africa
be at the very least maintained, if not increased, in the long-term.
153. Like all Posts overseas, one of the prime responsibilities
of the British High Commission in South Africa is to offer assistance
to United Kingdom nationals travelling and working there. The
figures below illustrate the scale of some of the work this section
of the High Commission undertakes (all figures are approximate):
- 750,000 United Kingdom nationals
live in South Africamaking it the fifth largest British
expatriate community in the world;
- over 400,000 British visitors to South Africa
- 50,000 personal callers to United Kingdom consular
offices in 2003;
- 200,000 telephone enquiries;
- 17,000 postal/fax/e-mail enquires; and
- 23,000 passports issued (90% in less than five
154. The consular section of the High Commission
employs five UK-based officers and eighteen locally-engaged staff,
in Pretoria and Cape Town. In addition to the work outlined in
the figures above, the staff undertake hospital and prison visits,
and offer assistance to the families of British nationals who
have died while in South Africa. In 2002, the High Commission
was closely involved with the provision of assistance to British
tourists affected by the Piet Retief coach crash in Mpumalanga
province, in which five Britons were killed.
This incident illustrated the vital importance of having competent
staff on the ground, with good local knowledge, who can respond
quickly to crises as they arise.
Visa entry clearance
155. Although South Africans do not require prior
entry clearance to visit the United Kingdom, this is necessary
if they intend to work or settle, do. Last year, the High Commission
in Pretoria (which handles all the Post's visa work) dealt with
around 29,335 visa applications, of which 93.1% were approved.
 The Visa Section
currently consists of one Entry Clearance Manager (ECM), five
Entry Clearance Officers (ECOs) and twenty-two locally-engaged
156. As the table below indicates, last year the
Post met all three of the Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets
set for it:
Figure 6: performance of the High Commission
in South Africa against PSA targets for visa entry clearance work
|Tier 1 and Tier 2 (straightforward non-settlement/residence applications) resolved within 24 hours.
|Average waiting time for a Tier 3 (non-settlement applications) interview.
||10 working days||One day
|Average waiting time for a Tier 4 (settlement applications) interview
||12 weeks||One week
157. Last year, the Post saw an increase of 28% in
the number of applications it dealt with compared to the previous
year. This reflected
the steady increase in demand for United Kingdom visas seen across
the world. The
Post attributed the increase in demand it had experienced, in
part, to South Africa rejoining of the Commonwealth in 1994. Since
that time, South Africans have been able to apply for working
holidaymaker (WHM) visasthese allow Commonwealth citizens
aged between 17 and 30 to come to the United Kingdom for an extended
holiday of up to two years, during which time they can seek employment
to support themselves. They can also apply for permit-free employment
on the grounds of British ancestry.
158. The FCO's entry clearance operations worldwide
are run by UKVisas, which is managed by the FCO and the Home Office
jointly. In its
memorandum, the FCO noted that, as from 13 November 2003:
South African nationals will be affected by the United
Kingdom Government's implementation of the EU-wide Residence Permits
scheme, i.e. those who wish to stay in the United Kingdom for
more than six months will need to apply for Entry Clearance before
Based on IND [Immigration and Nationality Directorate]
statistics for the number of South African nationals admitted
to the United Kingdom in 2001-2 for more than 6 months, we estimate
that this change in policy will generate around 19,000 visa applications
in the first year following its introduction. UKVisas have agreed
the additional deployment of 3 locally-engaged staff.
The FCO told us that: "Additional staff and
resources will be deployed if necessary."
159. We recommend that UK Visas continue to monitor
closely the demands on staff and resources at the United Kingdom
High Commission in South Africa resulting from the increasing
numbers of entry clearance applications being received there.
We further recommend that, in its response to this Report, the
FCO set out what extra resources and personnel have been allocated
to visa entry clearance work in South Africa since 2003.
Trade and investment (UKTI)
160. As noted above (paragraph 38), the UK's commercial
relationship with South Africa is a very significant one, with
over £5 billion in two-way trade each year.
The main focus of the FCO's commercial work in the country is
the UKTI offices in Johannesburg, which employs around 35 staff
(locally-engaged and UK-based). Commercial work is also carried
out at the posts in Durban and Cape Town. In an average year,
the Post sees over 500 visiting United Kingdom business people
and assists 12-15 trade missions and 4-5 visiting exhibition groups.
161. Between 1998 and 2000 the FCO ran a major campaign,
entitled 'Britain and South Africa: Partners in Opportunity',
to raise awareness in the United Kingdom of the opportunities
in the South African market. In recent years, particular emphasis
has been placed on helping United Kingdom companies take advantage
of opportunities arising from the South African privatisation
programme and Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). These include
opportunities in the water, airports, ports, healthcare, telecommunications
and railways sectors.
162. One of the most significant recent commercial
undertakings between South Africa and the United Kingdom was the
contract won by BAe Systems to supply 52 aircraft to South Africa,
with which UKTI was closely involved.
The contract is worth around £1.5 billion to BAe. While the
purchase has not proved to be without controversy,
we were pleased to note the 'offset' commitment negotiated as
part of the deal. This promises to deliver much-needed additional
investment in South Africa of nearly £5.5 billion. Both Governments
are monitoring the delivery of this commitment closely, and at
present BAe appears to be on track to meet its commitments.
163. During our inquiry, witnesses from British companies
that operated in South Africa gave very positive reports of the
work of UKTI. One stated that they had been "extremely helpful,"
and "very knowledgeable."
Another told that us that:
From our point of view they have been very, very
supportive in South Africa. We had a lot of contact with them;
they have provided us with leads, with contacts and been very
I believe that they do create an environment which
enables us to get access to key decision makers within government.
164. These views were echoed by nearly all the business
people we met while visiting Johannesburg and Cape Town earlier
this year. They had all received valuable assistance from staff
at the High Commission, who had developed expertise in a wide
range of business sectors.
165. We conclude that the trade and investment
section of the High Commission in South Africa is performing to
a high standard in assisting British businesses to operate there
and exploit new opportunities.
166. The British Council has a significant presence
in South Africa. Its memorandum for this inquiry stats that the
Council's aims in the country are to:
- enhance the UK's reputation
with the authority generation by supporting their transformation
- demonstrate United Kingdom creativity and innovation
to the young South Africans who will influence the country's future;
- strengthen civil society though developing access
to information and through developing leadership.
167. The Council works though a main office in Johannesburg,
which we saw during our recent visit, and three smaller offices
in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban. It receives around £2.35
million per annum in Grant-in-Aid from the FCO, with extra
funding coming from other sources.
This represents the budget for the whole Southern African region
of the British Council, though, which also includes Botswana,
Lesotho, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland. There are
currently five UK-based staff in the South African office, and
thirty-seven locally engaged personnel.
168. As its memorandum notes, the British Council
runs a number of schemes in South Africa. One of the most important
of these is its 'training for change' programme. This involves
a variety of initiatives, including working with the South African
Department of Education, overseeing university and schools links
and the management of the Chevening scholarships.
Given the difficulties South Africa is facing at present in the
field of education, particularly further education, it is clear
that the work of the British Council in this area is extremely
valuable and greatly appreciated. We were pleased to note that
Mr Paterson, of Macmillan Publishers, believed the "Council's
reputation is very good in South Africa."
This was echoed by the other interlocutors whom we met while in
169. We were concerned, however, to hear that one
witness had been informed, that the Chevening scholarships, which
are managed by the British Council, might be "reduced in
number, [and] that the higher educational links might be discontinued."
However, when questioned on this matter, Mr Mullin assured us
that he was unaware of any planned cuts and that the number of
scholarships available to South Africans was anticipated to be
broadly similar to previous years. The Minister subsequently,
in a written answer to the House, provided details of the number
of scholarships awarded between 2000 and 2004 on a country-by-country
As can be seen from the table below, the number of scholars from
Southern Africa has been relatively stable.
Figure 7: Chevening scholarships awarded
in Southern Africa, 2000/01-03/04
170. The myriad of active non-governmental organisations
which flourished in the apartheid era, particularly in the townships,
provided much of the grass roots democratic infrastructure at
the time, representing the majority of South Africans. The British
Government, at least in the later years of the apartheid regime,
had a creditable role in funding and generally encouraging their
work. It is still of importance that such Non-Governmental Organisations
(NGOs) continue to work as intermediary bodies, as checks and
balances, against any authoritarian temptations of government.
They should be encouraged and their leaders given appropriate
help and training.
171. We conclude that the British Council is carrying
out very important work in South Africa, both in promoting a deeper
relationship between the two nations and in providing crucial
educational support to the South African Government. We are also
convinced that the Chevening scholarship scheme is a vital part
of the British Council's work, and a very important way in which
the United Kingdom can influence future decision-makers. We recommend
that the FCO give serious consideration to increasing the number
of scholarships available to South Africans in the near future.
172. We further recommend that the British Council
continue actively to support civic organisations and to train
BBC World Service
173. The BBC World Service (BBC WS) operates its
Africa news-gathering co-ordination centre for radio and TV from
Johannesburg. It is one of the Service's seven major 'hubs' located
round the world and provides news coverage for World Service radio,
BBC World television and the BBC's International Facing Online
News Site. During
our visit to Johannesburg, we were glad to be able to visit the
Bureau and meet some of the staff who work there.
174. The BBC WS's Bureau in Johannesburg is very
active, producing a wide variety of high-quality, informative
programmes for both radio and television. For example, 'Focus
on Africa', which offers evening news and analysis from the region,
and the recently-launched Africa Live programme that encourages
listeners to interact with the broadcasters by phone, e-mail and
text message with comments on specific African issues and problems.
175. In its memorandum to our inquiry, the BBC WS
noted that it had a comparatively small radio and TV audience
in South Africa, where there is strong local market competition.
However, a number of its news items, both radio and TV, are now
being re-broadcast by the South African Broadcasting Corporation
(SABC), and some other companies, which has helped to increase
its profile. We were particularly pleased to note that the BBC
WS had replaced CNN in providing selected news items to SABC 3.
176. During our visit to the Bureau, we raised the
issue of broadcasts in Swahili by the BBC WS in Africa. The BBC
WS estimated that there are approximately 100 million speakers
of Swahili in Africa, of whom about 25 million speak it as their
At present, the World Service transmits five programmes a day
in Swahili for a total of two hours and twenty minutes (two hours
and two and a half hours on Saturday and Sunday respectively).
It is estimated that these programmes attract an audience of approximately
18.4 million people (primarily in the DRC, Kenya, Mozambique,
Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda).
177. We questioned the World Service as to whether,
in light of the large number of Swahili speakers and the competition
from other national radio services, this was sufficient. We were
reassured, however, that despite rival services being offered
by a number of other providers, the BBC WS was still attracting
larger audiences in the three countries with the largest Swahili-speaking
populations than its two "traditional competitors"Deutsche
Welle (Voice of Germany) and Voice of America (VOA). These figures
are set out in the table below:
Figure 8: Percentage of total adult population
listening to broadcasts in Swahili in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda
|BBC World Service
|Voice of America
Source: BBC World Service
178. In response to our question as to whether the
World Service had any plans to make changes to its Swahili service
in the near future, the BBC WS replied that it was, "planning
to improve its audibility still further by increasing the number
of FM transmissions in most of the target areas especially Southern
Tanzania and other major towns in Kenya."
179. We conclude that the BBC World Service's
Bureau in Johannesburg is carrying out excellent work in producing
high-quality and informative programmes for both radio and television.
We recommend that the Bureau continue to be given the funding
it needs to carry on this important work. We further recommend
that the BBC World Service give serious consideration to increasing
the resources it allocates to its Swahili service in the future.
180. An issue that this Committee has addressed on
a number of occasions in recent years, has been that of the FCO's
asset recycling programme. In our report on the Office's 2003
Annual Report we stated that:
The Foreign Office's overseas estate consists of
over 4,300 properties. Although 70% of these are leased, the Office
still owned assets worth approximately £960 million worldwide
as at March 2002. Since 1998, the FCO, in agreement with HM Treasury,
has been engaged in an 'asset recycling programme', under which
future investment, primarily in ICT [Information and Computer
Technology] and the estate, is funded by the sale of FCO property
at home and abroad. The process involves the Office identifying
and selling properties that have become, "surplus through
re-prioritisation, or which are not operationally effective or
good value for money." ...
We conclude that there are very grave concerns about
the long-term impact the asset recycling programme is having on
the FCO's overseas estate. There is a real danger that, in its
attempts to take full advantage of the scheme agreed with HM Treasury,
the Foreign Office is selling properties below their real value
in order to meet a short-term target. 
181. Given our deep concern about the long-term viability
of the asset recycling programme, we were very disappointed to
hear from Mr Mullin, therefore, that the FCO is actively considering
selling the High Commissioner's Residence in Cape Town.
This is a large and very attractive property that can accommodate
a wide variety of functionsconferences, hosting visiting
delegations, receptions, etc. While visiting Cape Town, we attended
a reception at the Residence held to mark the opening of the South
African Parliament for a new session. The event attracted a large
number of senior opinion formers, including several Government
ministers, and it was clear that the location had played an important
part in making the event such a success. We strongly recommend
that the FCO does not repeat the gross error it has made in so
many other locations of exchanging a valuable and appreciating
propertythe High Commissioner's Residence in Cape Townwhich
is clearly greatly assisting the promotion of United Kingdom interests,
for rapidly depreciating ICT assets.
209 Ev 76 Back
Q 223 Back
FCO, United Kingdom International Priorities: A Strategy for
the FCO, Cm 6052, December 2003 Back
For information, the largest ten British expatriate communities
are: Canada - 3.2 million; Hong Kong - 3 million; Australia -
2 million; USA - 1.2 million; South Africa - 750,000; Spain -
620,019; New Zealand - 400,000; Republic of Ireland - 375,000;
France - 130,000; and Italy - 60,000 (all figures approximate). Back
Ev 78, annex D Back
"Fifth SA bus Briton dies", BBC News, 31 October
Ev 77, annex C [FCO] Back
Ev 78, annex C [FCO] Back
Ev 78, annex C Back
FCO, Foreign & Commonwealth Office Departmental Report
2003, Cm 5913, p 123 Back
For further information, see: www.ukvisas.gov.uk. Back
The Immigration and Nationality Directorate is an agency of the
Home Office. It is responsible for immigration control at air
and sea ports throughout the United Kingdom and for considering
applications for permissions to stay, citizenship and asylum.
For further information, see: www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk. Back
Ev 78, annex C, paras 7-8 Back
Ibid., para 9 Back
Ev 71, para 45 [FCO] Back
Ev 72, paras 49 and 51 Back
See, for example: Ev 122 [CAAT]; and Ev 131 [Corner House]. Back
Q 138 [Paterson] Back
QQ 137-138 [Roe] Back
Ev 102 Back
Chevening scholarships, are funded by the FCO and administered
by the British Council. They enable overseas students to study
in the United Kingdom. The scholarships are named after the Foreign
Secretary's official country residence: Chevening House. For further
details, see: www.chevening.com. Back
Q 153 Back
Q 11 [Simon] Back
HC Deb, 18 March 2004, 415W Back
Ev 126. The other six centres are in: Delhi; Singapore; Jerusalem;
Washington; Moscow; and Brussels. Back
Ibid. The exact number of Swahili speakers is, however,
not completely clear. Ethnologue, for example estimates that Swahili
is spoken by 5 million people as their first language, and by
30 million as their second. For further details, see: www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code
Ev 130 [BBC WS] Back
Twelfth Report of Session 2002-03, Foreign and Commonwealth
Office Annual Report 2003, HC 859, paras 57 and 64 Back
QQ 224-5 Back