By Thupeyo Muleya in Beitbridge
BEITBRIDGE- Congestion which had eased at the Beitbridge Border Post in the last few days, returned yesterday as Zimbabweans based in South Africa started trooping back. Long and winding queues were the order of the day at the border post for both human and vehicular traffic.
Vehicles formed double queues that stretched for over two kilometres from the clearing offices, while people jostled to have their passports stamped. The slow movement of traffic was blamed on the introduction of exit forms on Sunday morning that are supposed to be filled in by travellers leaving the country.
Some of the travellers said the forms, which are meant to establish the exact number of people leaving the country, are not user friendly. Many people could be seen struggling to fill in the forms, while others were reluctant to comply with the new arrangement which they viewed as time consuming.
For visitors leaving the country, the forms demand that they state the approximate amount of money they used while in Zimbabwe. They have to state how much they spent on accommodation, food, entertainment, fares, petrol and all other purchases of a business nature.
The visitors would have to state their country of permanent residents and number of nights they spent in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean residents leaving the country for less than 12 months state family members they are travelling with and country of destination.
Those leaving for more than 12 months have to state the country of destination and their last permanent residential address in the country.
This is in addition to personal information that they have to provide on the form. Immigration officials said many travellers did not fill the forms properly since they were not familiar with them.
“Many have to re-do it because they just fill in information on all blank spaces including those which do not affect them,” said an immigration officer. This causes a lot of delay.”
Assistant regional immigration officer in charge of southern region, Mr Charles Gwede, said a lot of travellers were finding difficulties in completing the new forms. He said the forms contributed significantly to the slow movement of both human and vehicular traffic.
Mr Gwede said the department had put a host of measures to speed up the smooth clearance of travellers, but the main bottle neck was the new forms. “As the department of immigration, we are fully geared up for an increase in traffic and have collapsed our four shifts to three so that we can cope with the workload,” he said.
“We still have a challenge with the new exit cards which were introduced on New Year. The idea is excellent, but we have realised that the forms are not user friendly as travellers are taking time to complete them. This then puts a strain on the border officials.”
Mr Gwede said they would ensure that the passage for travellers was smooth despite the challenges. “We will continue to review the situation by each day and adjust where necessary. South bound traffic is our main worry at the moment as you are aware that very few people are coming into the country at the moment.”
The Department of Immigration had to seek assistance from traffic police to control the queues and avoid a chaotic situation.
Immigration and private security company guards had been overwhelmed by the long queues, but there is some order after the intervention of the police. An average of 4 000 people access the border post per day, but the number rises to 25 000 during peak times.
The border post has become a hive of activity as the number of Zimbabweans who arrived in the country last year from South Africa drastically increased by 25 352. The increase was attributed to the completion of the documentation of Zimbabweans which was jointly done by South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Many Zimbabweans living in South Africa could now afford to travel legally following the completion of the programme. Figures from the Department of Immigration indicate that a total of 35 077 people entered the country between 25 and 27 December last year as compared to 9 725 during the same period in 2010.
A further 16 524 left the country in 2011 during the same period, while 8 497 left the country in 2010.
Around 17 500 illegal immigrants also entered the country through the same border after paying fines for breaching a section of the Immigration Act. Statistics indicate that the volume of vehicular traffic has also increased with an average of 200 light cars per day.
In 2010, around 4 200 cars would enter the country per day towards the Christmas holiday, while last year between 4 500 and 4 700 cars entered the country during the same period. The Herald