By Thupeyo Muleya
South Africa has with effect from Wednesday last week, banned the use of cellphones by travellers within the immigration halls. Sources at the border said the ban was a reaction to the leaking of a video of one of the female immigration officers caught on camera devoting time to her smartphone, instead of clearing travellers.
The officer along with three supervisors have since been suspended from work for dereliction of duty.
“They (immigration officers) are always suspicious of people using smartphones inside the immigration hall and hence the ban,” said a source.
The ban was communicated through notices at all immigration service points at the border.
Home Affairs spokesperson Mr Mayihlome Tshwete confirmed the developments yesterday.
“This is an existing policy which we had to reiterate following recent events.
“We advise travellers not to hesitate to bring their complaints to our attention as and when they arise.
“The case of the female immigration officer is being dealt with through an internal disciplinary hearing,” he said.
In separate interviews yesterday, travellers said the move to ban the use of cellphone by travellers was sinister and bordered on poor people management skills.
“I am a cross-border trader and have been using this border post for the last four years,” said Ms Gertrude Moyo.
“Honestly, I do not see any justification for banning the use of cellphones by travellers in this era of digitalisation.
“I think the immigration officers feel outdone by that video where one of them was captured having a nice time on social media rather than serving travellers.”
She said travelling to South Africa by road via Beitbridge was a nightmare for many people, who are harassed by immigration officers.
Ms Moyo said the ban on cellphone use was meant to stop disgruntled travellers from collecting evidence against incompetent officials.
“Prohibiting the use of cellphones at the border is a way of perpetuating the abuse of travellers. I encourage the South African government to urgently look at the challenge at Beitbridge because the workers there have taken business as usual approach,” said Mr Maxwell Zhou.
He said it was sad that travellers take up to three hours to enter or leave South Africa and less than 10 minutes on the Zimbabwean side of the border.
Another traveller, Ms Andile Dube said the South Africans needed to change their attitude towards work rather than banning use of cellphones.
“They need to address the real issues rather than majoring on minor issues,” she said.
South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Mr Malusi Gigaba made a surprise visit to Beitbridge Border Post on Thursday last week, after the video of the immigration officer went viral on social media networks. It is reported that during the tour, he discovered that several computers had been tampered with and no biometrics information of travellers was being captured.
According to sources at the port of entry, the minister promised to set up a probe team to look into the status of the biometric system at Beitbridge.
He told SABC that Beitbridge Border Post has been on the government watch list, with many travellers raising the red flag over poor services by immigration officers.
“The Beitbridge Border Post has been on the spotlight because of long queues, corruption and inadequate staff and because of that picture that circulated of that lady who was (busy on his smartphone) while helping clients and therefore neglecting what she was supposed to do , that’s why we came here,” said Mr Gigaba.
He said tampering with biometric system put South Africa at high security risk.
“It is a security risk because when we introduced the security biometric system, we wanted to ensure that we have full knowledge, not only of names ad passport numbers of people getting into the country, but even their biometric details be checked to verify if they were ever found at a crime scene.
“There is a security threat to the country, so we are going to launch an investigation into the matter so that action can be taken against those people involved,” he said.
So far that country’s organised crime bursting unit, the Hawks have arrested over 25 South African border authorities between May 2016 and January this year in Limpopo Province alone on charges of fraud and corruption.