By Thupeyo Muleya
Zimbabwe is set to re-open more land borders after a team of senior government officials was dispatched to assess the state of affairs at the port of entry/exit ahead of the gradual opening.
Two weeks ago, the country re-opened its side of the Beitbridge Border Post but only to allow Zimbabwean citizens in South Africa to return home. The border is also processing outbound Zimbabweans with valid South African permanent residence and other permits, such as work and student permits, who are also now allowed to cross into South Africa and back home.
Zimbabweans in South Africa, popularly known as Injiva, are also now allowed back home without any restrictions or special clearance in a move that would see some locals who had been stuck in the neighbouring country flocking back home.
However, it has emerged that the Government is now moving to re-open other land borders to passenger traffic. The latest developments are being implemented as per last week’s Cabinet directive that teams be sent to all border posts to assess the state of readiness and recommend interventions after taking input from all stakeholders on the ground.
The Sunday News understands that the teams are visiting Beitbridge, Forbes, Chirundu, Kariba, Victoria Falls, Kazungula, and Nyamapanda border posts.
The teams comprise senior civil servants from ministries of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality, Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Defence and War Veterans, and Local Government and Public Works.
Beitbridge’s team leader, Mr Stewart Nyakotyo, who is the Director Legal and Consul Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said their mission involves taking submissions from border actors and practical assessment of current operations.
“We have started engaging various stakeholders at Beitbridge to assess the resources, operation proposals, state of manpower, proposed time frames for re-opening, current operational challenges, and what they need to get things moving.
After which we are going to have a practical feel on the ground of what they have and the shortcomings. We will then make recommendations to the National Covid-19 Task Force which will then merge our findings and recommendations with those from other teams.
This will then be taken to Cabinet to guide decision making,” said Mr Nyakotyo.
Speaking during the consultation, border stakeholders proposed that the Government should consider a phased border opening before allowing it all to sundry across borders. It said those travelling in private vehicles should start in the first phase this year, with public transport being the last before the end of the first quarter of 2021. The immigration officer-in-charge of Beitbridge Mr Nqobile Ncube said:
“It is only prudent to go with the phased route considering the current state of affairs here where we are battling with the commercial trucks with South Africa having re-opened their borders. You will note that in 2019, we cleared 5, 3 million people at this border with 14 000 passing through daily and we could have more people if we open at full throttle considering that people have not been moving for over six months.”
He said a successful re-opening of the land borders will depend on the Government’s resource base to attend to all the safety measures as proposed by the border stakeholders. The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) shift manager, Mr Jericho Rundogo said the current civil works to upgrade the border post had left them with limited operation space and hence the need to stagger the opening.
“Currently we are using private cars and bus lanes to clear commercial cargo. Imagine what would happen if we were open to full strength. So our proposal is let’s have small/private cars which are easy to manage to come through and we look at public transport after the festive season to avoid a chaotic scenario,” he said.
Beitbridge District Medical Officer Dr Lenos Samhere said they were still in discussions with four private laboratories who want to set up shop in the border town to boost testing of travellers leaving and entering the country through Beitbridge.
He said they had since requested more Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing and automated screening machines to boost service delivery and minimise delays at the port of entry. The Sunday News