Low-Key Start to Border Reopening

THE Plumtree, Beitbridge, Victoria Falls, Kariba, Chirundu and Forbes border posts re-opened as planned at 6am yesterday for private vehicles and pedestrians, but there was only a trickle of people going through rigorous health protocols.

At Beitbridge, the busiest border post, an official said by noon, 93 travellers had left Zimbabwe while 116 entered.

Strict Covid-19 screening was being carried on all those leaving or entering the country. Travellers are required to have a certificate valid for 48 hours stating they tested negative.

Zimbabwe had suspended passenger traffic through its borders from March to control the spread of Covid-19 and until yesterday, only commercial cargo, returning residents, bodies for burial, diplomats and Government officials were allowed to pass through the border posts.

Even now, those wanting to travel by bus will have to wait until the first quarter of next year.

At Beitbridge yesterday, security had been beefed up at all entry and exit points and travellers without valid travel documents were being turned away.

In addition, use of foot baths, automated thermometers and hand basins was compulsory. Traffic was split into light motor vehicles, buses, light commercial and heavy-duty trucks, and this was strictly enforced by immigration guards and a private security company engaged by Zimra.

According to one border official: “Activity is still low. Our understanding is that most travellers could have adopted a wait and see attitude considering the rigorous screening processes relating to Covid-19 protocols,” said the source.

The Assistant Immigration officer-in-charge of Beitbridge, Mr Nqobile Ncube was not available for comment.

One of the people turned away for having an invalid passport, Mr Obey Makwara, said: “I am stranded. I have a valid permit to be in South Africa, but unfortunately my passport expired last month, so I was not allowed to leave the country. I will have to wait for a new passport and I have since made an application”.

Another traveller who preferred not to be named said the US$60 charged by private laboratories for a Covid-19 test was high. The certificate requirement is likely to discourage casual visits.

Mr Panashe Nkosi said the border clearing processes had greatly improved compared to the last six years.

“It’s pleasing to note that the South African and Zimbabwean governments are taking the pandemic seriously judging by the level of preparedness on the ground. “The border processes are excellent and seamless. It’s a great experience for me. I had not come home by road in the past six years,” he said.

Ms Lucia Chidenga said she was happy to be home to reunite with her family after almost two years. Several cross border drivers said they were impressed with the clearance process and the separation of traffic.

“We haven’t had unnecessary delays and we are always engaging authorities where there are challenges and hope to maintain that relationship,” said Mr Tawanda Takezawa, who chairs the association for Beitbridge Cross Border Drivers. It was also all systems go at Plumtree, where officials said traffic was very low. “Everything is in place, but we have a low traffic. We will keep monitoring,” said the source.

Activity at Forbes-Machipanda Border Post was still low with commercial trucks making up the bulk of the traffic passing through the port of entry.

There were very few people seeking to cross the border into Mozambique and according to sources, the few who had come through had not managed to pass through by 11am. This was because the Mozambican authorities had not yet opened for motorists and pedestrians saying they were still waiting for authorisation from their immigration head office in Maputo.

On the Zimbabwean side, authorities were enforcing strict Covid-19 prevention measures with screening being done in both the departure and arrival lounges.

Government has not yet set up a Covid-19 testing centre at the port of entry and travellers are expected to bring a valid Covid-19 certificates. The Mozambican side will also be demanding the same.

At Chirundu and Kariba, the volume of vehicular and human traffic was also low on the first day of the borders being reopened.

A few people made inquiries at Chirundu on the requirements to cross into Zambia with possession of a valid Covid-19 certificate being the sticky issue for most.

Regional immigration officer Mr Joshua Chibundu said there was no change in traffic as they reopened the border.

“Traffic is very low on the first day and I think people are still to accept that they are indeed open,” said Mr Chibundu.

“The few people who came were only making inquiries and on our side we are ready to assist anyone who has a valid Covid-19 certificate issued by Port Health.”

The situation was the same at Kariba Border Post amid calls for a special dispensation for day trippers who cross into either Zambia or Zimbabwe regularly owing to historical ties and trade.

People from the two countries travel to buy and sell wares frequently and the cost of securing a Covid-19 certificate appeared prohibitive.

Officials from Zimbabwe and Zambia met yesterday to come up with recommendations for the normalisation of travel between the two countries.

The Victoria Falls border also opened to the public and people could cross into either Zimbabwe or Zambia if they had valid Covid-19 certificates.

Scores of pedestrians, especially Zambian hawkers, were turned away after being told they had to be in possession of a valid passport and Covid-19 negative certificate to be able to cross. Most of them were selling clothes and shoes.

There were scores of touts between the Zimbabwe border and bridge where they usually mill around waiting for border jumpers and smugglers who they help to cross illegally.

Security personnel were stopping and searching haulage trucks at the bridge to check for illegal travellers.

Acting Hwange District Medical Officer Dr Fungai Musunami-Mvura said necessary Covid-19 health protocols had been set up at the border where a port health centre was opened.

A sanitising booth was at the entrance to the rainforest.

Officials at the rainforest said a few international tourists visited the tourist attraction from Livingstone.

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