By Thupeyo Muleya
Long delays recently resurfaced at Beitbridge Border Post, with travellers spending close to three days to access either South Africa or Zimbabwe.
Among other factors, a bad work attitude among some border officials, infrastructure deficiencies and the Covid-19 pandemic worked against Sadc efforts to achieve free movement and seamless trade facilitation.
The chaos of the just-ended festive season came after the movement of people and cargo had, by and large, become seamless over the last three years.
A lot of work has been put by Harare and Pretoria, and the entire Sadc bloc to address challenges in the smooth flow of traffic at Beitbridge.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, a total of seven million travellers would be processed at Beitbridge Border Post.
These include, South Africans, Zambians, Zimbabweans, Malawians, Mozambicans, Angolans and Congolese among others. The border post is the major nucleus of regional trade for most Sadc countries.
It is reported that the volume of traffic had been reducing at Beitbridge Border Post prior to 2017 due to the state of affairs, before peaking as the New Dispensation implemented ease of doing business approach.
Generally however, the border post is a nightmare for many travellers as they spend long hours to gain access into either Zimbabwe or South Africa during peak periods including weekends.
Things were chaotic at the peak of the just-ended festive season, with five Zimbabweans dying while queuing to be cleared to leave the neighbouring country.
Many travellers leaving Zimbabwe had to sleep in their vehicles or in the open on no man’s land due to a slow Covid-19 screening that is happening on the South African side.
Some of the people would have failed to cross the border at night because of South Africa’s 9PM to 6AM curfew when the processing of private travellers would be discontinued. Only commercial cargo is processed on a 24 hours basis.
A number of risk takers, frustrated by the border chaos, ended up crossing the flooded Limpopo River to gain entry into the neighbouring country.
Vehicles are queuing for almost 5km into the border town. This is attributed to space and staff shortages on the South African side of the border.
In addition, delays have been attributed to the mushrooming of stakeholders duplicating operations, creating a rent-seeking environment that results in congestion.
The state of affairs is disheartening and is fast creating a breeding ground for more coronavirus infections and other diseases like cholera which may spill into either country.
The Zimbabwean Government is upgrading Beitbridge Border Post at a cost of US$300 million and it is believed that upon completion, the port will carry five times its capacity.
In yet another key intervention, Zimbabwe and South Africa have, for some time, been working on establishing a One Stop Border Post (OSBP) concept at Beitbridge to improve services and the flow of traffic.
Under the OSPB the two countries would harmonise operations to simplify the way of business and travellers are cleared once for passage into either country.
It is also understood that the lack of an authority or border efficiency management committee on the part of Zimbabwe has been the greatest undoing to the take-off of the noble initiative and the improvement on the ease of doing business.
A technical team led by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce is currently drafting the legal framework and the procedures manual, though the process is moving at a snail’s pace.
As part of accelerating the setting up of the OSBP, in 2017 South Africa launched a logistics hub in Musina to ease the cost of doing business and promote regional and international trade among Sadc.
The hub is the brainchild of Zimbabweans in the diaspora and is a culmination of a partnership between Lion Share, Burbey Group, Barloworld, Mac and Transnet.
It is important for Zimbabwe and South Africa to move a gear up in implementing the OSBP concept which has since 2009 improved the way of doing business at Chirundu Border Post between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
With people being cleared once for passage into either country, a lot of red tape including countless searches or duplication of procedures will be reduced. This reduces the time spent by travellers or importers at the border.
In addition, this will attract more commercial and tourist traffic for those using Zimbabwe as a transit zone to countries north of the Zambezi River.
Where there is high traffic, Government also tend to increase its revenue collection base.
The OSBP at Beitbridge will, as the concept has done at Chirundu, help resolve a number of operational issues to enhance the free movement and trade facilitation. The Chronicle.