Date: 24 January 2019 By: Jo Robinson
The Minister of Home Affairs, Siyabonga Cwele, announced at a media briefing on 20 January that visitors to South Africa had increased by 0.61% from last year overall. He said that the figure of 6 852 972 people who had entered the country’s various border posts was mainly made up of foreign tourists but included those travelling for education or business.
Cwele said that the Beit Bridge border post had seen the second-highest number of travel volumes in the country after the Oliver Tambo International Airport, with 884 992 visitors crossing there into South Africa between 1 December 2018 and 15 January 2019.
The assistant regional immigration officer in charge of Beit Bridge Zimbabwe, Mr Nqobile Ncube, told that country’s newspaper The Herald that they were clearing an average of between 14 000 and 30 000 visitors daily, both in and out of their country. He said that, following a new system of separating traffic into pedestrians, motorists, buses, commercial vehicles and visitors, things were flowing speedily.
No figures for unofficial entries from Zimbabwe into South Africa and vice versa exist. However, if reports are any indication, informal border crossing is not difficult. In November last year, three trips to the border post led by the DA’s spokesperson on immigration, Jacques Julius, revealed open gates large enough to allow trucks through and broken fences, as well as regular routes for the illegal collection and spending of SASSA grants and the transporting of stolen vehicles. Some reports commend the use of plain-clothes immigration officials, while others complain about criminals posing as plain-clothes immigration officials, especially on the Zimbabwean side of the border. People complain that the payment of bribes to the legal and illegal alike has become the order of the day at Beit Bridge.
One traveller hoping for a holiday with his family in Zimbabwe had his new twin-cab bakkie confiscated by Customs and Excise instead, after he had paid an unofficial “clearing agent” to process his vehicle’s temporary import paperwork. He now faces a long and costly procedure to get it back, if he can do so at all. With both criminals and actual immigration officials wearing plain clothes approaching travellers waiting either in their vehicles or on foot in queues, criminals of all kinds are enjoying easy pickings. Travellers are afraid of offending real border officials, and so they follow the instructions of crooks, only to find themselves in trouble regardless. From petty thievery to grand theft, travellers both to and from Zimbabwe should be absolutely sure that they are dealing with legitimate officials and consider carefully before handing over either personal documentation or cash.
Jo joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2018 pursuing a career in journalism after many years of writing fiction and non-fiction for other sectors.