Lockdown closures clear border mess

Andrew Kunambura

SANITY has returned to Beitbridge Border Post following the closure of the busy facility under fresh Covid-19 control measures by both South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The high mobility across the border has been cited as a Covid-19 super-spreader. The situation worsened during the festive season when the port, the region’s busiest, was overwhelmed by human and vehicular traffic as Zimbabweans and other people from the region flocked to and from home.

South African Home Affairs spokesperson Siya Qoza said calm has returned to the border post.

“As you know the two countries have announced full lockdowns which means that all borders are closed, including that one [Beitbridge]. So for now, the situation has calmed down a lot and there is virtually no passage of traffic except for vital cargo,” he said in response to questions sent via email.

“We expect the situation to remain so for as long as the current lockdown measures subsist,” Qoza said.

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa this week announced lockdown measures including closure of ports of entry until February 15 to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe said: “Information we are receiving from that end is that there is no chaos anymore. The situation has significantly calmed down. The border facility is officially closed now to human and vehicular traffic as part of the lockdown measures, except for commercial cargo although cases of smuggling have been reported,” he said.

Immigration and security officials based in Beitbridge said there was subdued activity on the illegal crossing points along the expansive Limpopo River to which many resorted to beat border frustrations.

Qoza attributed the reduction to Operation Corona undertaken by the South African Defence Forces (SANDF) which resulted in the arrest of 500 undocumented Zimbabweans who were attempting to illegally cross into South Africa.

He said: “Credit goes to SANDF for effectively ensuring that the influx of irregular migrants is stopped, otherwise we could be facing a fresh wave of infections in both countries.”

SANDF spokesperson Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi recently told South African media that they would vigorously implement the operation.

Mgobozi said the SANDF, assisted police in patrolling the 10km radius of the border fence, as well as the nearby Limpopo River, popular among enterprising travellers wishing to cross into South Africa illegally.

“Sometimes people cross the river when our soldiers are there, but the river is too wide, and the border is too long,” Mgobozi said.

But despite this, he said the SANDF was “doing everything possible” to make sure transgressors are apprehended.

Millions of Zimbabweans relocated to the neighbouring country to seek jobs following the collapse of the local economy at the turn of the century.