CONGESTION of vehicles and pedestrians travelling between South Africa and Zimbabwe has hit Beitbridge Border Post resulting in some travellers spending up to two days to cross the border.
The travellers are being cleared under strict Covid-19 health protocols and as such queues are moving slowly.
The situation has been worsened by the fact that the border closes at 10PM and opens at 4AM hence traffic is piling up on either side of the border. Zimbabwe has a curfew that runs from 10PM to 6AM.
The situation got worse as from last Friday when South Africa stopped clearing light vehicles, pedestrians and buses after 10PM. They are only clearing commercial cargo after 10pm.
“There is a need for Zimbabwe and South Africa to seriously consider the issue of curfews,” said one border official.
“As it stands, the South Africans are not clearing any traffic besides commercial cargo after 10pm. This has created problems for border officials considering that they are overwhelmed by traffic during this period even when operating 24 hours”.
The official said between 4AM and 10PM they were clearing all types of traffic, both south and northbound but after 10pm it’s only commercial vehicles.
“The SA officials start limiting the numbers of vehicles to be cleared as from 8pm and stop clearing the vehicles and people at 10pm except for commercial vehicles,” said the official.
According to Ms Alice Magwinye, who was travelling from Johannesburg to Masvingo, crossing the border has become a headache for many travellers.
“This is my second day at the border, I arrived at the South African border on Saturday morning but failed to cross because they wanted me to redo Covid-19 tests,” she said.
“I did that in the morning and when I went back to the border, the officials told me they were not handling travellers after 10PM in line with the curfew requirements. We then slept at the taxi rank on the border with others who encountered the same predicament and only crossed into Zimbabwe around 10AM”.
Another traveller, Mr Antonio Bila said the volume of vehicular traffic had sharply increased as many people were now travelling during the day to beat the curfew.
“We arrived at the South African border at 1AM and we slept in cars until they started serving us at around 4am. When I got to the Zimbabwe border, I took less than 30 minutes to complete all the border processes,” he said.
A cross-border transport operator, Mr Bhekisipho Ngwenya said Zimbabwe and South Africa should seriously consider suspending curfews during the holidays to allow border officials to operate 24 hours to clear the increased volume of vehicles and travellers.
Another border official said crowding travellers at the border was tantamount to reversing the gains Zimbabwe has made in containing Covid-19.
On the Zimbabwe border, more clearing points have been opened to speed up the flow of traffic. Port Health officials have also been beefed up to speed up Covid-19 screening processes.
Chronicle understands that a total of 2 500 vehicles are being cleared a day. These include 1 000 commercial trucks, 100 buses, 1 400 light motor vehicles.
The country’s land borders were reopened on December 1 to private motor vehicles and pedestrians with only buses carrying Zimbabwean returnees and those in transit being allowed entry.
The Department of Immigration’s spokesperson, Mrs Memory Mugwagwa said they reviewed operations in order to expeditiously clear the increasing human and vehicular traffic at the country’s borders last week.
She said they had to boost the staff complement with personnel from less busy stations. Mrs Mugwagwa said they had also suspended all leave and off days for staff to increase manpower.
She said they were liaising with other inter-border agencies to ensure seamless movement of traffic in and out of the country.
“We are processing between 4 000 and 5 000 travellers at Beitbridge and Plumtree and we have been polishing up our operations so that we will be able to clear more traffic through the festive season,” she said. Chronicle