LAST week, a friend and I drove back from South Africa, arriving at the Beitbridge border post at 2 pm. On the South African side, the authorities were as efficient as ever, but on arriving on th
e Zimbabwe side, we were met with the usual chaos.
The process of paying one’s duty was more convoluted than ever, with scores of cars strewn all over the place and literally over a hundred people milling around. The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) customs declaration system had once again changed, and as normal, there was no one and no printed information to tell you where to go or what to do.
First we had to join the first queue to get our customs declaration stamped. Then we joined another queue to have our duty calculated, as we were both bringing in goods around the R4 000 mark each.
That is before being informed by our number written on it to join the duty calculation queue. We did this, and struggled along in the queue with the other 50 or so people, most of who were moaning at the fact that there was only one Zimra official doing all the calculations. Of the other two on duty, one was handing out the numbers for the main queue and the other was taking the payments for the duty calculated.
Why, I asked myself, could not all three have done the calculations, and taken the duty money at the same time? Maybe I was missing something.
After two hours in this queue, we came to the front, only to be told by the Zimra official that because we were each declaring over R3 000 worth of goods, we had to get a clearing agent to do it for us. We asked why the threshold was so low?
Using a clearing agent for goods worth say R10 000, we could understand, but R3 000? Why had we not been told this two hours previously, and why were there no leaflets, posters, or officials telling people that on arrival?
We were met with a blank stare, and then informed that it was the policy, and that was that. Another rather rude and officious Zimra official also informed us that if we did not use a clearing agent our goods would be impounded. At this point, and becoming just a little exasperated, I informed the Zimra official that we were after all customers and not criminals. This didn’t seem to help much.
So, there we were at 4.30 pm stuck at the border, having to find a clearing agent out of thin air, once again with no help from Zimra. Luckily, my colleague phoned a friend who knew a clearing agent whom we made contact with. He met us and went away for two hours to do the paperwork to clear our goods. This, in fact, took three hours, so we had our paperwork back at 7.30 pm.
Off our agent went to find a Zimra official to clear our goods. Yes, we thought, we would now be out of there in, say, an hour, having paid our duty. Fat Chance!
Our agent was in another queue, and apparently there was also a problem with the Zimra printer, which was adding to the delay. Another three hours went by, 10.30 pm.
We now felt like we were in prison, with no parole. I saw my life fading away before me, forever entombed at Beitbridge Border Post!
My friend, having had enough of all this, managed to join our agent in the said queue, upstairs in the Zimra offices. He says he found several Zimra officials sitting around, looking as though they were half-asleep, and one in particular, in a dingy half-lit office, doing the duty calculations.
Eventually, at 1.30am our paperwork was cleared, our goods were inspected, and our duty was paid, which incidentally was just about the same amount as we would have had to pay at the beginning.
Zimra has a duty to collect tax at the border. That is undeniable. However, with just a modicum of efficiency and organisation on the front desks, particularly during peak traffic hours, they would not only do this but also make life tolerable for those entering the country.
All I can say is: welcome to Zimbabwe and God help any law-abiding resident returning via Beitbridge who brings in and declares goods worth R3 000 or over. By the way, I believe the Zimra motto printed on a board on one of their walls is “We aim to serve”.