Thousands of Zimbabweans fleeing lockdown trapped at Beitbridge

Joseph Chirume

A humanitarian crisis is emerging at the Beitbridge border post where hundreds of Zimbabweans fleeing the tough lockdown restrictions have been stranded at the border waiting to get back to South Africa.

Cross border organisations representing stranded travellers at the post have accused South African immigration officials of deliberately holding them up to frustrate them into giving bribes.

Social media videos show angry travellers saying in Shona that they have been stuck at the South African side since Sunday despite having valid travel and Covid-19 test documents.

Zimbabwe Vice President, General Constantino Chiwenga, declared a 30 day lockdown on Saturday that was put into effect on Tuesday morning. This prompted thousands of travellers to rush to the borders before the ban kicked off.

Dennis Juru, President of the International Cross-Border Traders’ Association (ICTA), said: “If there is a single person with Covid-19, all of the people will be infected. People are sitting all over as if they are goats. There are plenty of people at the South African side and soldiers have been ejecting them.

“Most people arrived on Sunday but they have not been served. I know of buses that left Harare on Sunday and are stuck at the South African side.

“The South African officials are very slow at processing passports. They are in no hurry despite that travellers have valid documents. There are women and children who haven’t bathed for the past three days. The place is very hot. Instead of assisting travellers, the police are busy shoving and shifting them from place to place.”

Juru said he phoned a senior immigration officer yesterday about the situation. He said the official told him they were slow because they were waiting for officials from the health department to test people for Covid-19.

Juru said some of the officials enjoy serving travellers without valid documents for a bribe. He said they were now slow because all people have valid documents.

Secretary General of the Port Elizabeth based Zimbabwe Migrants Support Network, Shelton Chiyangwa said they will be travelling to the border post to assist fellow Zimbabweans.

Chiyangwa said, “We appeal to the South African authorities to help by speeding up processes at the border. It should be noted that about 60% of work and study permit holders had travelled home and are supposed to resume work this week.”

Vice President Chiwenga said in a statement: “Cross border traders are banned save for commercial and transit cargo for essential and critical services.”

South African Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi told journalists today that a humanitarian crisis was building up at the Beitbridge border post.

He said, “It is clear to see that there may be a humanitarian crisis unfolding. People are trying to escape the Zimbabwean hard lockdown and the curfew there. There is nothing we can do. We sent all the extra people, the army, the police, health officials. We won’t be able to send more.”

A bus driver who didn’t want to be named said: “We arrived at the border on Sunday around 12 midday. Everything was at a standstill. Rumours were that the borders would be closed. That’s why everyone rushed here so we could be in South Africa before the closing of the border. 

Another traveller who also spoke on condition of anonymity said, “I am at the SA side where testing of Foot and Mouth is done for travellers. It’s overwhelming and those videos you saw are real. The Zimbabwe crisis will push you to do the unthinkable. Even Motsoaledi has to accept the situation. There are people with valid permits and those with passports as well as border jumpers. Zimbabwe closed its border hence all these people have to enter South Africa.”

Video source: Facebook