Incoming traffic is surging at the transformed Beitbridge border post, with more tourists and ordinary travellers coming in from South Africa now preferring to drive through the new look port of entry and as travel builds up following the decline of Covid-19 that caused a major decline in the last two years.
The number of people going through the border post in either direction has jumped from 2 000 a day during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic to almost 13 000 a day as traffic builds up, and with the new infrastructure the officials are coping well.
As part of the arrangement at the new border post, the consortium building the new infrastructure has completed a lot of the required work while Government is providing the land and technical advice.
Immigration officials have been noticing a significant number of people with e-passports, which are much easier to process, and many people are opting for safer and legal border crossing.
The lack of appropriate infrastructure and non-automation at the border had in previous years created a bottleneck to the efficient movement of cargo and people.
This created security challenges, congestion, and delays. In order to address some of the challenges, the Second Republic undertook a project to upgrade and modernise Beitbridge Border Post through a private-public partnership with the Zimborders consortium at a cost of US$300 million.
The main scope of the project includes the upgrading of the border post with new terminal buildings, commercial facilities for the border post plant, an animal quarantine facility and the construction of 220 staff houses for border agencies.
Beitbridge’s acting head of Immigration Mr Trustworthy Manatsire said his unit had started witnessing an increase in traffic through the freight and the bus terminals since the beginning of May this year.
“We are equally geared to handle the surge in traffic and between May and July, we cleared a total of 625 778 travellers. These include 327 370 arrivals and 298 408 departures,” said Mr Manatsire.
“At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were handling less than 2 000 travellers daily but now we are drifting towards 13 000 daily,” he said.
Through their regional compliance and enforcement unit his department had also intercepted 8 055 irregular migrants travelling to either Zimbabwe or South Africa. These are people who prefer to sneak across the Limpopo, with many illegal crossing points on the fairly shallow river.
“We are also tightening screws with the help of other security agents at the border and we have been intercepting an average of 2 200 irregular migrants going to either country.
At the same time, South Africa deported 1 556 people for violating their immigration laws during the period under review,” said Mr Manatsire.
Separation of traffic into commercial trucks, buses and light vehicles had helped address efficiency challenges at Beitbridge since each category of traffic was being handled depending on its needs.
The significant increase in movement, particularly for July was a result of the total relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions by South Africa. They removed requirements for PRC and vaccination certificates while Zimbabwe allows the vaccinated fairly unrestricted entry.
“We handled 272 365 travellers in July alone, which included 136 881 arrivals and 135 784 departures,” said Mr Manatsire.
“In addition, we are also noticing a significant number of people with e-passports. The e-passport enrolment has also contributed as travel documents are now easily accessible.”
Regular travellers commended the Government yesterday for attending to operational challenges which previously affected the smooth flow of traffic.
Travellers taking selfies at the new-look bus or freight terminals have become a common feature daily.
“The level of efficiency is commendable, considering that using this border had become a nightmare for most of us. But now there are clear directions on where one gets services and there is more space for border workers.
We are no longer spending long hours or days here. You just walk in and get cleared in less than 20 minutes provided your travel and customs documents are in order,” said Miss Amanda Tsikwa.
Another traveller, Mr Freedom Mudau, said services had improved and now the process from entry to departure was now faster than before which has eliminated the long queues which had become common at Beitbridge.
“The ambience and the infrastructure at the border are impressive. It is also pleasing to note that there is a new work ethic among border agencies that is eliminating rent-seeking activities,” said Ms Farai Khumalo.
According to Mr Honest Chenjerai, the clearance of pedestrians had drastically improved and there was a need for streamlining a few teething challenges affecting motorists.