Long queues and desperate attempts to enter South Africa have placed a huge strain on the country’s border posts with neighbouring countries.
And, while acknowledging that a “humanitarian crisis” might be unfolding at the Beitbridge border post with Zimbabwe, home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi says government has done all it can to alleviate the situation.
On Monday, South African police arrested 35 people at the Kosi Bay border post for crossing into South Africa illegally, KwaZulu-Natal police said on Tuesday.
Police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said the suspects are aged 19 to 55.
She said they were arrested on Sunday and Monday. Gwala added that the suspects are being held at the Emanguzi police station and will appear in the local court soon.
The Kosi Bay border post is on South Africa’s border with Mozambique.
The situation at South Africa’s border posts is tense as thousands queue for kilometres for days.
One reason for the delays is that travellers are required to produce a valid negative Covid-19 test result obtained 72 hours before the date of travel.
Travellers with no documentation proving negative test results must submit to an antigen test on arrival at the border at their own cost. Should travellers test positive, they are required to quarantine at their own cost.
Videos circulating on social media show chaotic scenes at the busy Beitbridge border post, with thousands of Zimbabweans desperately trying to cross into South Africa.
Zimbabwean news site ZimLive reported that thousands of Zimbabweans have been queueing at the border post.
The site reported that Zimbabwe had announced general travel would be suspended for 30 days, starting on Tuesday evening, as part of that country’s lockdown regulations.
ZimLive also reported that some travellers said they had been stuck at the border since Sunday.
In a video circulating on social media, people in Lesotho can be seen using a makeshift boat purportedly crossing a river into South Africa.
Last week, News24 reported that Free State police had arrested 42 people trying to enter the country illegally by crossing the Caledon River using a tube.
Motsoaledi told News24 a humanitarian crisis appears to be unfolding at the Beitbridge border crossing. This as thousands of Zimbabweans flock to South Africa before the hard lockdown is implemented in that country and borders are closed on Tuesday evening.
Motsoaledi said he informed his Zimbabwean counterpart that officials at the border post will process people up to 21:00 on Tuesday. He said an exception had been made as South Africa’s curfew begins at that time.
“It is clear to see that there may be a humanitarian crisis unfolding. I have seen the pictures. People are trying to escape the Zimbabwean hard lockdown and the curfew there,” he said.
Motsoaledi said it appeared that Zimbabwean border officials were overwhelmed by the large number of people wanting to enter South Africa before the hard lockdown is implemented by authorities there.
The minister said nothing more can be done to alleviate the long queues at borders across the country and acknowledged that the queueing crowds could be super-spreaders of Covid-19.
“The queues are long because people want to come to South Africa. There is nothing more we can do. We sent all the extra people, the army, the police, health officials. We won’t be able to send any more,” he said.
“Beyond that there is nothing more we can do.”
He said officials at other borders were simply enforcing the law. “If you don’t have a valid Covid-19 test, go back. If you have a fraudulent test go back. If you don’t have a passport, go back”.
He said people crossing rivers to get into South Africa were doing so illegally. “People don’t risk crossing rivers simply because the queue is so long. It is illegal crossings,” the minister said.
Police spokesperson Colonel Athlenda Mathe told News24 she would give an overall response to questions of law enforcement at the borders. Her comment will be added once received.