By Alex Bell
08 January 2013
The governments of both South Africa and Zimbabwe are being urged to collaborate and bring an end to the chaotic situations at the Beitbridge border post, where days of congestion have only just started to ease.
The border has been the scene of chaos since last week with tens of thousands of people returning to South Africa after their Christmas holidays. The result was a sometimes 20 km stretch of cars waiting for their turn to cross the border, forcing many travellers to sleep in their cars for days. The frayed tempers, irate motorists and reports of near riots, later saw South Africa beef-up its security presence at the border crossing, to prevent the anger turning into violence.
Local businessman Moffat Ndou told SW Radio Africa that the situation was “beyond human understanding,” and should have been prevented. He said the problem was on the South African side, where too few immigration officials had been deployed to clear the queues.
“It is the worst I’ve seen it since I’ve been in Beitbridge, so really the worst in years. It should never have been allowed to happen. It is busy every year and it must not be allowed to happen again,” Ndou said.
Ndou described how local businesses in Beitbridge were seriously affected, with people unable to get to work because of the congested roads. He also urged the governments of both countries to collaborate to ease the congestion, because of the high number of Zimbabweans working in South Africa.
Co-Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi on Monday contacted his South African counterpart, Naledi Pandor, who in turn promised to immediately increase the number of immigration officials at the South African side of the border. Ndou explained that the congestion has slowly started to clear since Monday evening.
Pandor said the large number of travellers was underestimated and South Africa was unprepared for the crowds. But many Zimbabweans, who took to social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter to share their experiences, said the situation could easily been anticipated and prevented. Online users said the chaos is expected every year because of the large number of Zimbabweans working in SA.
Among them was Education Minister David Coltart who took to Facebook to criticise the situation, calling the congestion a ‘national embarrassment’. He told SW Radio Africa on Tuesday that the situation was “entirely predictable,” and border congestion is an issue that has repeatedly been discussed at cabinet level for years.
“Far from resolving the issue it now appears to be getting worse… there needs to be regional commitment and action to ease the congestion at the borders,” Coltart said.
He added that a number of short and long term measures need to be seriously considered, including opening a second border to help cope with the flow of traffic from central Africa down to the economic hub of South Africa’s Gauteng.
“In the short term though, there needs to be radical action and changes. We need to stop reacting to crises and instead we need a proactive approach to this,” Coltart said.