By Thupeyo Muleya
Business at Beitbridge border post came to a standstill for about two hours yesterday after scores of omalayitsha (informal cross border couriers)who were travelling in about 50 South African registered vehicles were left stranded on the bridge, blocking traffic going either side of the border after they were refused entry into Zimbabwe and re-entry into South Africa.
South Africa re-opened its borders to passenger travel on Monday, but Zimbabwe’s borders remain partially closed after Government extended the Level four lockdown by another two weeks.
Under the country’s Covid-19 lockdown regulations, only commercial cargo, diplomats on government business, bodies for burial, light commercial trucks (15 tonnes), foreigners legally resident in Zimbabwe, and returning residents are allowed to enter via the land borders.
On the departure side, Zimbabweans who are legally resident in foreign countries, foreigners, commercial and transit cargo are permitted to exit.
Things came to head yesterday when the South Africans allowed omalayitsha to depart their country although Zimbabwe’s position had been fully communicated to them through the inter border agencies.
This resulted in them being refused entry into Zimbabwe and when they attempted to return to their country, authorities refused to let them back in.
At the height of the mini-crisis, South African border authorities tied a rope at the centre of the New Limpopo Bridge (NLB) arguing that they would not release or accept any traffic from Zimbabwe.
After two hours of contestations, Zimbabwean security agents took control of the situation, forcing the South Africans and omalayitsha to give in.
“The position is very clear on who is permitted to use the land border and under that category we don’t have omalayitsha,” said a Zimbabwean border official who preferred anonymity.
“We haven’t had issues with commercial traffic, returning residents and light commercial traffic.”
When our news crew arrived at the border, the omalayitsha were stranded at the bridge.
“I have already paid for the gate passes and the temporary import permits and insurance fees to enter Zimbabwe, but we were turned away by border authorities,” said a distraught Mr Nehemiah Nyathi.
“This is an inconvenience, most of us had assumed the border operations had been synchronised. Now we have to go back to Gauteng.”
Another omalayitsha identified only as Nicholas said they were left in a quandary after the South Africans refused to process their entry.
“We are stuck at the bridge. South Africa says they cannot allow us to re-enter with the nature of goods we are carrying,” said Nicholas.
Other cross-border transporters vowed to stay put on the bridge until Zimbabwean and South African authorities reached a consensus.
The mini standoff at the bridge also worsened the long delays being experienced by commercial truck drivers who are spending at least three days to leave the neighbouring country.
According to truck drivers, the border congestion had increased as many trucks now prefer using Zimbabwe as a transit route than Botswana.
“We are having a lot of trucks coming through this border and hence the delays. Many truck drivers are avoiding Botswana because authorities in that country are doing mandatory Covid-19 retesting.
Even if you have the clearance, the Tswanas prefer to do their own test. So many people avoid this process,” said Mr Edward Sibanda.
He said to speed up the flow of traffic, border authorities must separate traffic into local and transit to avoid holding up trucks unnecessarily at the border.
Another driver, Mr Kajah Ndimo said the delays at the border should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“Imagine spending a day to move for just 3km. Authorities must act on this issue,” he said.
According to Mr Peacemaker Muhenyeri, truckers were incurring additional costs in truck park charges due to the long delays.
An average of 800 commercial, 50 light commercial and 15 buses have been using Beitbridge to cross into either South Africa or Zimbabwe daily in the last four days. The Herald