The refusal by Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) staff at Beitbridge to handle bus passengers yesterday saw 366 Zimbabweans returning from South Africa in 12 buses stranded at Beitbridge Border Post, although they had already been cleared for re-entry by the Department of Immigration.
The government clarified last month that Zimbabweans may now return from South Africa via Beitbridge without having to seek authorisation from the Zimbabwean embassy or the South African government. South Africa opened 18 of its 35 land borders to passenger traffic on 1 October and Zimbabwe will gradually open its borders to passenger traffic, and mainly motorists in private vehicles and pedestrians.
At the moment, only Zimbabweans based in South Africa and foreigners with valid residents or workers permits are allowed entry into the country, while South Africans and Zimbabweans who are holders of the neighbouring country’s permits are allowed to exit. By end of the day yesterday, the travellers, mostly women with young children, had become restless, having arrived at the border post since 8 am. According to one border official, the travellers were cleared by the Department of Immigration to enter the country but hit a brick wall at Zimra.
“By 10 am, they had all completed immigration formalities and the delays are only at Zimra where they were told that the customs officials were not clearing travellers in buses as yet,” said the official.
Mai Panashe of Harare said they were having challenges with Zimra officials. “We arrived here in the morning and were cleared by the immigration officers,” she said. “Now our challenge is with Zimra who are saying we should return to South Africa since they are not processing arrivals in buses. This is very unfair. How can they deny us entry into our own country?”
Most of the travellers said they were returning home after having been stuck in South Africa since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown. The Assistant Regional Immigration Officer in charge of Beitbridge, Mr Nqobile Ncube was not available for comment yesterday, while Zimra’s head of communications, Mr Francis Chimanda, said he was yet to get full details on the situation obtaining at Beitbridge.
Before the lockdown in April, a total of 600 000 travellers would use Beitbridge monthly in both directions. The figure is likely to increase after December 1 when more people travel considering that it is a transit port for those from Malawi, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.
Plumtree, Victoria Falls, Chirundu, Nyamapanda and Forbes are some of the borders which will be re-opened in a phased programme next month.