Festive hive of activity at Zimbabwe border posts

Assistant Regional Immigration Officer Plumtree Border Post Mr Terence Njagu (right) assists travellers at the border post yesterday. — Picture: Eliah Saushoma

Activity has heightened at border posts, with Beitbridge handling over 500 000 entries and exits since the beginning of this month, while Plumtree has had to temporarily adopt a 24-hour shift.

A total of 503 932 travellers have used Beitbridge Border Post to access either Zimbabwe or  South Africa since the beginning of December, with 65 000 vehicles passing through the border post which is open 24 hours a day.

According to border authorities, an average of 4 000 light cars and 25 000 travellers are cleared at the border post daily.

Officials from Zimbabwe and South Africa said though the movement of people was increasing daily, especially in the evenings, the situation was under control.

The State media says during off-peak periods they clear 2 000 light vehicles and 13 000 travellers daily, inclusive of arrivals and exits.

Assistant Regional Immigration Officer (ARIO) in charge of Beitbridge Mr Nqobile Ncube said they had harmonised the border efficiency operational programme with South Africa. This involves the separation of traffic into pedestrians, light vehicles, tourists, commercial and buses.

A traveller, Mr Thabani Ndlovu said he was pleased with the state of affairs at the border as they were spending a few minutes to complete immigration formalities on the Zimbabwean side.

A cross-border buses coordinator in Beitbridge Mr Joshua Musimbe said though the situation had relatively improved on the Zimbabwean side of the border they were still having challenges on the South African side where buses were queuing for clearance with commercial trucks.

He said on average the buses were being delayed by two or three hours.

“Prior to the festive season, we were told that the buses will be separated to their own lane rather than mixing them with cargo. The last three days were hectic,” said Mr Musimbe.

Mr Ncube said all off and leave days for border workers had been cancelled to boost staffing levels and most departments had received more staff from less busy stations to ensure a speedy flow of traffic at the border.

“We are building from the success of the last festive season and reviewing progress daily. Though the movement level is quite high, it’s being managed. In addition to other measures, we have opened more service points outside the main immigration hall to expedite clearance.

“We are in constant touch with our South African counterparts to ensure that we apply similar operational procedures and address challenges on the dot,” he said.

He said it was important for people to travel with relevant and adequate documents to minimise delays at the border post.

South Africa has deployed 400 more immigration workers to busy border posts including Beitbridge to beef up its strength.

South Africa’s deputy Home Affairs Minister Mr Njabulo Nzuza visited Beitbridge yesterday to asses operations and make corrective measures to create a free flow of both vehicular and human traffic.

Plumtree Border Post started operating round the clock on Friday to accommodate travellers during the festive season as the volumes have increased by 42 percent since Monday.

Normally, the border post closes at 10pm daily.

Assistant Regional Immigration Officer Mr Terence Njagu said in anticipation of increased traffic volumes, the border will operate for 24 hours a day .

“Generally, from the beginning of the month, traffic has been low. However, as soon as schools closed, traffic increased and has been increasing each and every day. There has been a 42 percent increase from the normal traffic that we were handling a week before,” said Mr Njagu.

“Most of the people passing through the border post work in industries, some in farms. With most of these employees closing (for the holiday) today, and others closing yesterday, we anticipate increased flows of traffic. On average, we have 1 500 exits and 1 400 entries daily. Now we are clearing up to between 2 900 and 3 600 a day.”

He said two weeks ago, weekly traffic flows stood at 28 000 at Mpoengs and Mulambaphele, the entry points that fall under Plumtree Border Post, but last week the figures jumped to 41 148.

Mr Njagu said the Immigration Department had beefed up staff and suspended holidays to efficiently deal with increased volumes and promptly serve travellers.

“We have instituted a 24-hour shift from today until the 24th of December. Basically, we open the border at 6am, it will be opened continuously up to Christmas Day at 10pm. So, from today until Christmas Day there will be continuous clearance of people. This is meant to create time for our travelling public. At any given time if they want to pass through the border during that time, they will be served. It eases pressure, it eases congestion and we ensure that everyone who is coming to Zimbabwe is served quickly and they enjoy their holidays,” said Mr Njagu.

He said the traveling public should not expect hurdles from departments working from the border as they were working as a team to facilitate their smooth traveling.

“We are working with the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) and the rest of the border team and we are working on modalities to ensure smooth, efficient and quick service for the entire border processes and we are working as a team. Everyone is working flat out for the best interests of our travelling public. We are in liaison with all the stakeholders, including Zimra,” he said.

Chirundu and Kariba border posts are a hive of activity with congestion being the order of the day particularly for north-bound traffic.

Chirundu has seen a surge in traffic with vehicles queues of up to 12km from the border post in a development largely attributed to large volumes of imports into Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

An agent at the border post said the pace at which people were being cleared was slow before calling for more staff.

“The people who are there are trying their best but the volume of human and vehicular traffic is just too much for them to cope with. There was need for more people to handle the sudden increase in volumes,” said the agent.

Most truck drivers are trying to make it across the border in time for Christmas Day. “We have been here since yesterday and we are hoping that we are cleared to cross into Zambia by the end of the day so that we can be with our families while others are hoping to offload and be with their families in South Africa and Zimbabwe,” said Mr James Kitenda of the DRC.

At Kariba Border Post, traffic volumes are higher than usual putting pressure on staff used to the occasional surge in tourist traffic.

Forbes Border Post in Mutare has been busy throughout the weekend with long queues being witnessed both in Zimbabwe and Machipanda in Mozambique. Most people took advantage of the long weekend to travel to Manica or Chimoio in Mozambique to buy groceries especially rice and cooking oil which are usually cheaper there.

An immigration employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “We have been busy since last week. I have just finished my shift, but there were long queues on both sides of the border. Some people are also returning home from Mozambique where they work. Unlike in previous years, it seems most people are crossing into Mozambique to buy groceries.”

Operating times have not been changed at the border, which opens at 6am and closes at 8pm