The South African Police Services (SAPS) is facing criticism for using tear gas to control a restless group of travellers at the border with Zimbabwe, amid warnings that the crackdown on cross border migration between the two countries is intensifying.
SAPS members at the Beitbridge border fired tear gas last Friday morning where queues of mainly Zimbabwean citizens had been waiting several hours trying clear immigration control. It has been reported that some of the travellers started jumping the queue, resulting in rising anger among the already impatient crowd.
Police officer commanding Beitbridge district, Chief Superintendent Lawrence Chinhengo, said this weekend that the incident was a great cause for concern.
"This was a very unfortunate incident. We are not happy with the method our counterparts used to control queues and have since communicated to them that we need to have an urgent bilateral meeting to iron out the issue. There are better ways to manage people rather than the tear smoke. It is of paramount importance that we meet and find better ways to control crowds during this festive season," he said.
Police say they have had to step up border controls in Beitbridge because around 40 percent of Zimbabweans deported from South Africa over the past year eventually return. Recent statistics say that an estimated 43,000 Zimbabweans have been deported since last October.
Diana Zimbudzana from the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum said the tight controls at the legal crossing at Beitbridge are a result of South Africa's "intolerance" with Zimbabweans, who continue to seek economic refuge across the border. Zimbudzana said South Africa needs to rethink its immigration policies and start putting their much-touted 'spirit of Ubuntu' into practice.
"The number of border crossing are increasing because there's a reason for it. The situation back home is still causing people to leave. And there will be an influx come the next elections. But South Africa is not doing all it can to help Zimbabweans," Zimbudzana said.
She said that the country is clamping down on immigration using 'unofficial' policies that make it difficult for foreign nationals to secure either asylum or immigration papers. Part of this campaign has been the closure of refugee reception offices across the country.
"But you can't prove that this is official policy so there is almost nothing you can do about it," Zimbudzana said.
She added that, while the immigration controls at the border have strengthened, there is no control of criminal activity at the borders. It is understood that an estimated 10 foreign nationals, mainly Zimbabweans, are raped every day while crossing the border. Criminal gangs also continue to take advantage of the hundreds of border crossers risking the jump every day, robbing and assaulting people.