By Lance Guma
22 April 2010
Thousands of Zimbabweans have been left stranded at the Beitbridge border post after South African immigration officials refused to recognize a newly introduced Temporary Travel Document. According to reports from the state owned Herald newspaper ‘South African port officials allegedly fired their guns to frighten the affected travellers into crossing back to the Zimbabwean side of the border.’
On the 14th April this year the Registrar General’s office introduced a new Temporary Travel Document, valid for 6 months, arguing it wanted to stop the spread of fake Emergency Travel Documents (ETD’s). Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede convened a press conference at which he hailed the new document as meeting international standards. ‘The new document is machine-readable just like a passport,’ and has ‘invisible marks which can only be detected by the machine at ports of entry,’ he said.
But it seems someone forgot to tell the South Africans, or at the very least show them a specimen. On Tuesday night South African immigration officials are reported to have started turning away Zimbabweans who were using the new document and referred them back to the Registrar-General’s Office in Beitbridge. Those who still have the old 21-day Emergency Travel Document are being allowed in with no problems.
One of the affected passengers is said to have filed a complaint with the South African Embassy in Harare, after his 8 year old daughter was hauled off a bus around midnight. She was among a group of travelers ‘shepherded back with guns’ by South African police at the border. In an effort to scare away the disgruntled passengers the police are alleged to have fired gunshots into the air. South African police and border officials deny the allegations even though their Zimbabwean counterparts confirmed hearing the gunfire.
On Thursday Newsreel spoke to Maqoba Ndebele, a cross border bus driver, who confirmed that thousands of passengers are being turned back. He said most of the travellers are furious as they have used a lot of money on their journeys and have been turned back through no fault of theirs. In response to this situation Co-Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi has been quoted as saying they will inform the South African government about the new travel documents.
It would have been a good idea to do this at the beginning!