It is easy to go to and from South Africa through the official border post without a valid passport and a Covid-19 certificate, legal requirements on both sides, thanks to corrupt officials in both countries.
It does, however, cost R1 200 for a middleman, who presumably pays off the officials after taking a cut.
Last Tuesday, a Herald reporter went to Musina and back to see how it was done.
In one of the high-density suburbs of Beitbridge, a red Honda Fit old shape pulled and stopped at the gate of Venda Lodge, where The Herald investigations reporter had put up.
The reporter, armed with his passport and Covid-19 certificate, opened the door, jumped in and together with the driver, headed for the border. He was carrying the legal documents just in case.
Before this particular day, on a hot Monday afternoon, the reporter had gone as an ordinary traveller to the border post where he managed to gather information on how to cross into South Africa without any travel documents.
At the main and first gate into the immigration offices from Beitbridge town, the reporter saw to the right, security officers manning the gate and randomly checking for documents from those entering or coming out of the immigration offices on foot.
To the left, an immigration official would be checking for passports, Covid-19 certificates and other documents from motorists into the complex, while other security officers are responsible for checking all motorists entering into the country.
Self-made immigration agents are always milling outside the perimeter fence, soliciting for clients without required documentation.
If one does not have a passport, the agents will charge him or her R1 000, while those without a Covid-19 certificate but in possession of a passport will pay the agent R200 and he will easily take them through to the South African side of the border.
Remember, for one to travel to another country, and since there are supposed to be identical requirements both sides at Beitbridge to leave Zimbabwe, one has to be in possession of a valid passport, with other documents needed depending on the reason of his or her intention to visit a neighbouring country.
Added to other documents needed for entering South Africa or for re-entering Zimbabwe, a Covid-19 certificate following a PCR test within 48 hours before leaving or re-entering the country. Most institutions charge around US$65 for the required PCR test for Covid-19.
However, visitors to and from South Africa, with the assistance from some security personnel on both sides of the border can easily go to either of the countries without even a passport.
Corruption and laxity by security officers at Beitbridge border post has become a cause of concern, where travellers to and from South Africa can easily enter through the border post even without required documents.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said Joint Operation Command (JOC) has already visited the border.
“Last week Joint Operation Command went there and a number of issues were discussed. I would not want to pre-empt what was discussed by various stakeholders. But I want to assure Zimbabweans that action is going to be definitely taken.”
Cross Border Association of Zimbabwe president Mr Killer Zivhu pleaded with the Government to urgently intervene and curb the rot at the border. He said if the corruption and laxity is not immediately stopped, people will perish.
Mr Zivhu warned that those who enter into the country illegally and without being tested for Covid-19 will accelerate the rate of infections in Zimbabwe since South Africa is experiencing a second wave of the deadly pandemic.
He also took to Twitter after passing through the Beitbridge border post where he allegedly witnessed people coming into the country illegally.
“This message is intended for our President Cde ED Mnangagwa and Vice President Chiwenga who is the Health and Child Care Minister, that people coming from South Africa are coming in their large numbers and they are coming some through the border but most of them have no Covid-19 certificates to show his or her status.
“Those who are supposed to make sure that the law is adhered to are the ones taking R200 bribes at the border (from people with no relevant documentation including the crucial Covid-19 certificates), these people are coming into the country in numbers.
“I am afraid that we are going to be hard hit by the pandemic and it will clean sweep the entire nation. These people are going to different parts of the country and they will be spreading, we plead with our President, please do something about the corruption at the border.”
On the Tuesday test, The Herald reporter put himself in the hands of “Godie” who was quick to offer his services.
“I will take you through the side of the border if you do not have any passport. I know the road which is very safe, or will take you through the water its faster that way. But if you have a passport but not have a Covid-19 certificate, just give me R300 it will be enough for both Zimbabwe and South Africa authorities, I know most of them,” he said.
However, since the reporter had his passport and Covid-19 certificate, he turned down the offer, and decided to go through the border and observe the processes.
On arrival at the Immigration office, the reporter surrendered his passport and Covid-19 certificate and was granted permission to proceed to the SA side.
But before crossing the Limpopo river bridge, some security officers were stationed at the last gate before the bridge where they were checking for everyone’s passport and certificate. Those without all required documents particularly the Covid-19 certificate were either made to return, the legal option, or made to pay R100, basically a bribe.
The reporter proceeded smoothly after producing the documents. After passing the security checkpoint, the reporter proceeded to the last security checkpoint which is stationed at the bridge where most people, particularly pedestrians are scrutinised before proceeding through the “No Man’s Land.”
It is at this last checkpoint that people are vetted according to what they possess in terms of travel documents.
The reporter proceeded to one of the security officers and asked how he can proceed to SA without a passport.
The officer stopped, lifted up his face and looked closely at the reporter with suspicious eyes, before telling the reporter that he will arrest him.
“So you came here and you want to cross the border without a passport. Well, if you attempt you will get arrested, I will arrest you,” he said.
After a few minutes of another suspicious stare, the officer just said, “you can proceed to SA”, before joining other officers in vetting dozens of pedestrians who were intending to cross-over to SA.
The security officers at the last check point would put pedestrians in groups.
Those with proper documents were told to use the foot bridge first while those without were told to wait a bit longer before they release them, after taking R100 to R200 as a bribe.
After passing the Limpopo river while on top of the bridge, those without proper documents are lowered from the foot bridge with a rope and land at the other side of the river near the South African fence.
All was happening in the eyes of the reporter, who was on the other side of the bridge.
The same rope would be used by other people who are always wandering “aimlessly” on the footbridge to lift up illegal immigrants from South Africa, and on many occasions, security officers would be helping in lowering or lifting up of these illegal immigrants.
As soon as they are lifted up, the pay between R100 and R200, an amount confirmed by one of the illegal immigrant.
While others would be assisted to illegally cross into Zimbabwe or South Africa, underneath the bridge, more people would be attempting to cross through the crocodile infested Limpopo River on their own.
From above the bridge, one could see some people in the nearby bush, waiting for an opportunity or dusk so they can illegally enter into the country from SA or illegally get into SA from Zimbabwe.
However, alert SA officers could have none of it and occasionally would engage in a cat and mouse game with Zimbabweans who would have encroached to the SA side from the No Man’s Land.
While walking on the bridge, the reporter was approached by an official from SA who demanded to see his papers.
After producing them, the officer permitted the reporter to proceed to another security checkpoint.
It was at this security check point that the reporter was told that his Covid-19 certificate was supposed to be accompanied by a text message or receipt from the health institution which tested him.
The reporter had none.
The official said he will only allow him to proceed after “you buy me” a drink.
He instructed the reporter to go into a toilet with his passport and insert a R200 note, which upon his return, the reporter handed the official the passport which he took and went behind his check point station, pocketed the money and finally, permitted the reporter to proceed.
At the immigration office, the reporter produced his passport and certificate. He was told that he could not proceed to SA since his passport was prohibited, among other reasons. The reporter’s passport was stamped a prohibition stamp, handed back and instructed to go back home (Zimbabwe).
Instead of heading back home, the reporter proceeded to the last security check point where he approached an officer and told him his issue. “Officer, I have been prohibited to enter into South Africa, but I am asking for your understanding here because I want to go and buy something in Musina,” said the reporter.
“Okay let me see your passport,” responded the officer. The reporter handed him the passport.
Before approaching the officer, the reporter had inserted a R200 inside, and upon receiving and opening the passport, the officer quickly took the bill, folded it and pocketed.
It happened so fast. He smiled at the reporter, handed him his passport and told him to proceed to SA.
The reporter was then in SA side, where he hitch-hiked to Musina, made a quick small shopping and came back to the border.
He proceeded to the first check point (SA) side where he was not even asked to produce any travel documents, let alone a Covid-19 certificate, as is required.
He proceeded through the same bridge after walking through all security check points in SA without anyone asking for his documents.
On the bridge, the reporter was confronted by an unfortunate and sad incident where a suspected Zimbabwean national was attacked and killed by a crocodile while attempting to illegally cross into South Africa.
More than 50 people were watching helplessly as killer crocodiles were busy fighting to get a chunk of the man.
While the crocodile which attacked the man was swimming down the river, the man’s clothes and legs were completely visible.
Again, across to the foot bridge, various people who had illegally crossed from SA were being lifted up, while those who intended to illegally cross into SA were later lowered to the ground.
From the brief unfortunate incident, the reporter proceeded to Zimbabwe side security check point, where he was not asked for any document, even the Covid-19 certificate.
In the immigration office, his passport was stamped on the Arrival side and went out. He was stopped at the last security check point where he was simply asked about his trip before he was told to proceed home.
He was never asked for a Covid-19 certificate or passport regardless of him carrying plastic bags with some clothing he had bought in South Africa.