BY 4.30am hordes of buses from all over Zimbabwe descend on the Beitbridge Border Post — reportedly the busiest inland port of entry in Sub-Saharan Africa — carrying thousands of people desperate to cross into South Africa.
The bus queue is stretching more than a kilometre into Beitbridge, while an equally longer one of private vehicles and haulage trucks adds to the congestion and chaos at the border post teeming with travellers.
It is a Saturday morning and heavy clouds pregnant with rain are pointing to a heavy downpour, but the determined countenances on the majority of the thousands who want to cross the border into South Africa — where millions of Zimbabweans live as economic refugees — bears testimony that the rains will not in any way deter them.
Because the buses are moving slowly due to the massive congestion and chaotic scenes at the border post, people disembark from the vehicles choosing to walk to the immigration counters, leaving their belongings on the bus.
“This will enable us to get to the border fast so that we have our passports stamped and cross over to the South African side for the same procedure. We will catch the bus on the South African side,” said Slyvia Nyakabaro, when asked why she was completing the journey on foot.
Soon the heavens opened resulting in a torrent of rainfall pounding the travellers and the saturated earth. There had been floods in Beitbridge recently. But the rain did not dampen the spirit of the majority of people, who continued making their way to the border. The red soils of Beitbridge, which resulted in most people having muddy feet, were also not a hindrance.
The large numbers of people at the border told a story of how Zimbabweans would move mountains to flee the poverty that has engulfed their country in search of the proverbial greener pastures in South Africa.
“There is no hope in this country and the best and easiest thing a reasonable person will do is to join others in South Africa,” said Tatenda Chitende from Mt Darwin, who said he was going to Johannesburg to look for a job. “We have been patient hoping that the promised two million jobs will materialise, but it is actually the opposite that is happening. We cannot continue to have hope in a government that is at war with itself. Zanu PF is at war with itself and that has been the case since 2013. When will such a government think of us, the povo.”
Zimbabwean immigration authorities work at break-neck speed to clear the crowds, in the process by-passing vital protocols and not thoroughly checking passports amid serious pressure.
“I am using my young brother’s passport, but it has already been stamped because the immigration officers are not checking thoroughly. I think they are tired of this mass exodus of people as South Africa is now giving employment work permits to Zimbabweans,” said another middle-aged man who said was heading to Port Elizabeth.
The thousands of people who had had their passports stamped were helpless as the rain pounded them while waiting for the gate to be opened, leaving those that had no vehicles drenched.
In interviews, the people showed they were heading to South Africa for different reasons. Most however said they were looking for jobs, with some going to look for employment at farms, while others were travelling as far as Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.
Johannesburg — South Africa’s economic hub — however remains the destination of choice. But some were going for shopping or to buy goods for resale — the so-called cross-border traders.
“The large numbers of people going to South Africa is an indicator of how things have gone bad at home. We have to endure the rain, abuse and whatever we come across because we have no choice; we want to earn a living,” said Sandra Moyo from Gwanda, who was going to Durban to look for a job. “We have no choice but to wait in the rain until they (South African immigration officials) open the border. We know there is a risk of being robbed because some of us are not familiar with where we are going. There is a danger of being subjected to xenophobia attacks, but we are also aware that we have to take risks to earn a living.
“After all, there will be no food on the table if I remain seated at home.”
Moyo’s sentiments reflects the gloom that pervades the country hard hit by a disabling liquidity crunch, low capacity utilisation of less than 35%, company closures and massive job losses.
Presenting the 2015 national budget, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa revealed that 4 610 companies shut down between 2011 and 2014 resulting in the loss of 55 443 jobs.
Recent statistics made available by the South African embassy in Harare shows that work permit and study visa applications processed by the embassy in 2015 doubled to 300 per day from about 150 per day in 2014. The embassy is processing about 6 000 applications a month which translates to about 72 000 applications a year as thousands of Zimbabweans seek economic refuge.
Embassy officials, however, say there were thousands other Zimbabweans who were crossing the border illegally to reside in South Africa. Many others cross the border legally, but overstay while looking for employment.
Social commentator Maxwell Saungweme said Zimbabweans are flocking to South Africa because they have lost hope in President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF.
“When there is no hope in a country, people leave. There is no future in a country with a 92 year old president, a country where a First Lady determines government policies and issues ‘presidential directives’,” Saungweme said.
“There is no hope in this factional and implosive aged regime. We are doomed. We have allowed this government to run away with the future. There are limited options for people with no jobs, deflation and a dysfunctional government.
The only thing evident is infighting in Zanu PF and nothing else. Why should people seat back? We all want a future for ourselves and children. Why not go look for the future elsewhere, if it cannot be guaranteed at home?” he asked.
Jessie Majome, lawyer and MDC-T legislator, concurred with Saungweme saying: “Zimbabweans are accurate readers of the political outlook. It is a long, tough, hungry road to 2018. They can see that we have no government that is willing or able to stem the economic suffering and the looming starvation,” she said.
“In fact, we have no government at all! The Zanu PF leadership is out of touch and out of step with the Zimbabwean sentiments and aspirations. It is still locked in the liberation struggle of nearly four decades ago.”