By Thupeyo Muleya
Hundreds of Zimbabweans returning to the country for Christmas are spending up to two days to pass through Beitbridge Border Post as congestion persists at Sadc’s busiest inland port of entry.
Even commercial cargo is piling up on either side raising fears that most Zimbabweans, who rely on groceries from the neighbouring country, may spend the festive season without food.
There are long queues on either side of the border, despite official statistics showing that Christmas period traffic has declined by almost 70 percent this year compared to previous years.
The decline is attributed to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
South Africa is home to many Zimbabwean migrant workers and a majority of them were not able to travel through the borders at the peak of the Covid-19 induced lockdowns in both countries.
Until December 1 only commercial cargo, bodies for burial and returnees, and diplomats on Government business were allowed to travel into either country.
Zimbabwe opened its land borders, including Beitbridge at the beginning of this month. Private motorists and pedestrians are now travelling under strict Covid-19 management protocols, which also come with curfews running between 10PM and 6AM in both countries.
However, the implementation of the curfew on the South African side of the border which runs between 10PM and 4AM coupled with strict Covid-19 screening is slowing the movement of traffic into either country.
After 10PM only commercial cargo is allowed to travel through Beitbridge Border Post, resulting in vehicles piling up on either side of the border.
Travellers continue to spend at least 48 hours to pass through the border.
Although there appear to be many people at the border due to congestion, official statistics show that less than one-third of the usual volume of traffic during peak periods is using the border.
“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the border used to handle at least 30 000 travellers per day and currently, the average figure is 6 500.
“The issue of implementing curfew regulations and slow Covid-19 screening has caused a lot of chaos,” said a border official.
An average of 50 Zimbabweans are arriving from South Africa by road daily under the self-repatriation facility.
According to an informal cross-border transporter, Mr Trust Ndlovu, the slow movement of traffic at the border is likely to see some families having a dull festive season.
“Something has to be done about the situation here. Imagine I haven’t moved for one kilometre since arriving at the border at 5 AM,” said Mr Ndlovu yesterday afternoon.
“When the Government re-opened the land borders, most of us were happy that we will be able to transport groceries and all the basic commodities we had failed to do at the peak of the lockdown.
“If we look at the rate at which things are moving here, we won’t manage to make deliveries to all our clients. This will be disastrous.”
Mr Albert Pinjisi who was travelling from South Africa said he had spent more than six hours at the border due to long queues.
Another motorist, Mr Brian Tshabangu said; “We have a crisis here, we don’t know if we will be able to cross over to South Africa today. We have cleared everything on the Zimbabwe side and have been waiting in this queue for a very long time.”
Our news crew observed security officers strictly screening travellers for valid documents including passports and Covid-19 clearance certificates.
A total of 1 015 people have since December 10 been arrested at the border for violating immigration laws. The Chronicle