Zimbabweans engaged in smuggling activities and illicit trading along the South African border have laughed off the brand new fence hastily erected as a measure to prevent goods and people entering the country illegally.
R37 million fence is a joke
In March, Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille announced the R37 million upgrade to the existing border fence between South Africa and Zimbabwe but it doesn’t seem like they got their money’s worth.
Busani Sibanda, a Zimbabwean citizen, says that he has been able to smuggle suitcases full of cigarettes and groceries through the R37 million fence.
“This is not a fence,” Sibanda told Sunday Times journalists visiting the border near Beitbridge.
“This thing doesn’t even take me five minutes to cut through. We make big holes so we can get suitcases with cigarettes through and small ones so we can get people and groceries through.”
Sibanda told reporters that he charges R500 to smuggle a person through the border and R2000 to arrange grocery shopping trips to Musina, the closest South African town to the border.
“We work in big teams. It takes about 40 of us 20 minutes to take a bakkie-load of food across the river. If the army brings their dogs, we move to where the fence ends and walk around it.”
“Not everyone coming across the river is a criminal. Most are starving. We find mothers who, when we arrest them, beg us not to send them home. They beg to be taken somewhere where they can eat,” an anonymous soldier told Sunday Times journalists.
De Lille has asked Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu to conduct a review of the 40km Beitbridge Border Fence Project.
“The intervention was to ensure no persons cross into or out of the country … to contain the virus,” said De Lille.
“Magwa is appropriately qualified and was already working on a repair and maintenance project at Beitbridge. The overall sum, funded through the department’s infrastructure budget, covers materials; disposal of the old damaged fence, accelerated construction, additional security.”
The company contracted to do the repair work on the border fence, Magwa Construction has defended their efforts.
“Our internal auditors are here. The external auditors are coming. SA will soon know that we did nothing wrong,” Magwa’s Bertram Pringle is quoted as saying.