SOUTH AFRICA failed to close its border at midnight on Thursday as droves of Zimbabweans resident in that country thronged the Beitbridge border post to return home involuntarily.
BY REX MPHISA
Thousands of undocumented Zimbabweans streamed to illegal crossing points dotted along the 250-km porous border line defeating the COVID-19 screening at Beitbridge and exposing Zimbabweans to higher risk of contracting the virus.
“People are still coming in and the border is open. Thousands of people are northbound into Zimbabwe and other countries up,” an immigration source said yesterday.
“It was hectic with most saying they cannot lose a chance of being home for 21 days.”
Both SA and Zimbabwe had said they were closing their shared border post in stepped up precautionary measures against the ravaging COVID-19 epidemic.
Only essential services and commercial goods were spared from the closure that has seen staff being trimmed.
Families and lone travellers aboard numerous buses and hundreds of small minibuses and private cars formed all piled a inside the customs and excise yard at Beitbridge.
Service was remarkably brisk.
Throughout yesterday and the day before long queues formed at the COVID-19 screening point at the northern embarkment of the New Limpopo River bridge.
The Zimbabwe National Army and the Zimbabwe Republic Police had made increased deployments to compel arrivals to be tested.
Beitbridge East Member of Parliament Albert Nguluvhe on Thursday appealed to the Beitbridge business community to help with batteries for infra-red thermometers used for screening as the workload soared.
“Please assist us with batteries for the screening infra-red devices,” Nguluvhe said in a message broadcast on several social media platforms for Beitbridge residents.
He also appealed for hand sanitisers amid heavy criticism by some residents who said government had its priorities all wrong.
“So we lack these basics Mr MP? If so please all cars branded Zanu PF must be sold and we attack the pandemic” said one Bhekimpilo Mbedzi reacting to Nguluvhe’s request.
Police manning the northern gate came under heavy fire for delaying traffic as social distancing at the border became a problem.
“This is not the time to group people and the police should be aware of this. Why do they keep stopping cars creating crowds,” asked one customs officer.
Zimbabwe has five confirmed cases and a single death while South Africa’s figures passed the 1 000 mark yesterday morning, with two confirmed deaths.
At the border post no reports of suspected cases were made.
“I would rather go through the lockdown with my family than alone here in South Africa,” said Joas Mhlope of Lower Gweru, who lives on part-time jobs.
“I cannot afford rent for the next 21 days. I don’t have a regular job,” Mhlope said.
A villager in rural Beitbridge East along the Limpopo said thousands of border jumpers were returning home through illegal crossing points.
“There is a sudden gush of border jumpers at all illegal points here. Most of them are headed home and are a bit anxious looking,” said the source.
There are more than 100 illegal crossing points on the Limpopo River.
The International Organisation for Migration is currently on an exercise to educate villagers on how to co-exist with migrant workers passing throw their areas.
Meanwhile, Chivhu residents have called upon the government to consider closing truck inns in the transit-town, where cross-border truck drivers stop overnight before proceeding with their trips to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Chivhu town is located along the Beitbridge-Harare Highway, which links Zimbabwe and several other countries thereby making it vulnerable to the spread of the deadly disease.
Chivhu Residents and Rate Payers Alliance (CHRRA) chairperson Collen Zvarevashe said: “There are a lot of activities which include vending and prostitution which occur at the truck inns and it exposes locals to the spread of coronavirus.”
“These activities are mostly done during the night and monitoring them is difficult. There are prostitutes in Chivhu who socialise with the cross-border truck drivers at the truck inns and will also later mingle with the locals thereby putting the whole community at risk of coronavirus.”
According to a survey conducted by NewsDay, the two truck inns in Chivhu can accommodate an average of 50 trucks per night.
Mashonaland East Zimbabwe Nurses Association chairperson Stewart Mudzingwa said the government should embark on proper sensitisation of communities about the disease so that they take the necessary preventive measures.