Beitbridge — Congestion at Beitbridge border post has put a damper on the festive mood as Zimbabweans flocking to and from neighbouring South Africa for early festive season shopping complained of torturous queues, resulting in some travellers spending up to 48 hours without being cleared.
Long queues, for both human and vehicular traffic are not uncommon at the border post, but during the current festive season the situation appears to be getting out of hand.
There are prolonged customs procedures involving physical examinations and individual searches of luggage.
Adding salt to injury has been the recent hiking of fares by buses travelling to and from South Africa, which has seen a single trip to Johannesburg from Bulawayo going up from between R300 and R350 to between R400 and R560.
The 24 hour border post handles up to 25 000 travellers per day during the festive season.
Stringent South African immigration laws on children have also added to the trauma for travellers this festive season. According to new regulations put in place in May this year, parents or guardians travelling with minors below the age of 17 into South Africa should have an affidavit signed by the other parent or both, for the child's passport to be stamped.
Principal immigration officer, Patricia Mafodya told The Financial Gazette that travellers had nothing to worry about as her department had everything under control and had boosted staff to cope with the influx of travelers at the border post.
"It is common to have increased volumes of travellers, those coming home from South Africa and those crossing to South Africa for Christmas shopping. However, we always make sure that all is well on our side. We have boosted our staff to make sure the process is faster and travellers are not unduly strained," said Mafodya.
"We have the capacity to deal with any volume of traffic and travellers should feel free to make use of Beitbridge," she added.
A snap survey of the border post showed that most delays were caused at the South African side where long winding queues could be seen.
"One gets the feeling that they (the South Africans) do not want to clear us and we don't even understand why. They are just sitting there and don't seem to be in a hurry. We have been standing here for the past six hours and the queue does not seem to be moving," said Rudo Mpofu, a shopper who was returning home to Bulawayo.
"I got lucky because I am travelling with omalayitsha; they bribed the immigration guys so that we get cleared quickly. I feel so sorry for the people I saw queuing back there," said Matthew Ndlovu, another traveller coming back from South Africa.
A South African immigration official who declined to be named said his department had not yet beefed up staff to complement the increased volume of traffic.
"We will deal with that as soon as possible. Obviously the situation will get worse during the coming few weeks so we want to be prepared," said the official.
Earlier this year, the Zimbabwe-South Africa Joint Commission, announced plans to establish a one-stop border post concept at Beitbridge to facilitate the quick flow of trade between the two countries.
Once implemented, the concept is expected to address the long winding queues among other things.
The one-stop border post concept would be the second in the country after the pilot phase at Chirundu Border Post between Zimbabwe and Zambia which came about as an initiative of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa to facilitate trade and free movement of goods and services within the region.
Under the one-stop border post concept, travellers will be cleared just once for passage into another country unlike the current setup in which they have to undergo formalities on both sides of the border.