THE Department of Immigration has advised Government to consider phasing the reopening of land borders, especially Beitbridge Border Post which before the start of the lockdown in March handled half a million people per month.
The port of entry is also a gateway to a number of countries that include, Malawi, Mozambique, DRC, Zambia, Tanzania, and Zambia.
According to the Assistant Regional Immigration officer in charge of Beitbridge, Mr Nqobile Ncube, there are a number of measures that still need to be put in place to avoid a second wave of Covid-19 infections in the country.
Mr Ncube made the remarks while briefing the Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr John Mangwiro on the state of affairs at the border.
The Deputy Minister visited the port of entry on Saturday to assess the state of preparedness ahead of the gradual opening of the country’s borders.
Zimbabwe has 26 ports of entry including small and major border posts.
Last month, the country reopened airports to tourism-related travel while the movement of ordinary travellers is still restricted.
Only returning residents, commercial cargo, diplomats on Government business and human remains for burial are being allowed entry through the country’s land borders.
“South Africa recently opened its land borders to international travel and there have been challenges here and there with regards to logistics and efficient flow of traffic.
“As Zimbabwe, we must have an introspection into the South African model and make corrective measures based on their experiences. In fact, the movement of people across borders has been limited throughout the lockdown period,” said Mr Ncube.
The senior immigration officer said in the period before the lockdown, they were processing more than 500 000 people per month and 13 000 to 15 000 per day, from across Sadc countries north of the Zambezi River.
Mr Ncube said Government should look at the probability of clearing the same number when Beitbridge Border Post is re-opened versus resources on the ground.
“During peak periods we used to clear 30 000 people daily, we had to suspend off and leave days and this is an aspect we must not overlook,” he said.
The current scenario whereby commercial trucks are not moving on either side of the border, he said, should be an indicator of what to expect when more people are allowed to cross the border.
“As immigration officials, we are of the view that we should have a phased approach to opening borders to accommodate the increase in travellers. The other challenge we are having on the ground which has generated interest from the South Africans is on issues around who from our side is responsible or is able to test and certify Covid-19 results for those leaving Zimbabwe. This must be clarified,” said Mr Ncube.
He said although they were allowing South Africans and holders of permits from that country to exit, and Zimbabweans and holders of resident permits to re-enter, the movement through the official border was minimal.
He said at the start of the lockdown in March close to 2 500 South Africans couldn’t leave Zimbabwe and they were required to clear with the embassy in Harare first.
He said only 100 people had been authorised to leave before Pretoria reopened its borders on October 1.
“During the lockdown, we have been clearing 1 000 people including truckers, special cargo, returning residents, and since we have had a compromise opening with South Africa, we have not seen a change in traffic.
“It’s either people entered through illegal entry points to avoid quarantining or they can’t afford the testing fees announced by our Government,” said Mr Ncube.