7 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Beitbridge Border Congestion Gets Worse

Traffic queues of more than 5 kilometres long were reported by Zimbabweans travelling to South Africa over the weekend, with some saying they had been stuck in queues at the border post for days.

The state run Herald newspaper described the situation as "pandemonium" as officials blamed the congestion on holiday makers now returning to South Africa to go back to work. Motorists leaving Zimbabwe were reportedly spending hours trying to be cleared through customs.

Traffic figures more than doubled from the usual 8,000 travellers that normally cross over into South Africa daily, to an estimated 20,000 per day this past weekend.

According to the Herald it is the South African side that was not able to cope with the increased volume of traffic, causing long queues to form on the Zim side. The paper quoted Patrick Moengs, spokesperson for South Africa's Border Control Operation Coordinating Committee (BCOCC), as saying they were "reviewing plans to address congestion at their side of the border".

The congestion was so bad for the last few days that Minister David Coltart was driven to post an angry note on his Facebook page.

"The situation at Beitbridge remains intolerable, unacceptable and a major obstruction to Zimbabwe ever attracting significant tourists from South Africa," the Minister said.

He added: "In my view, this situation needs a massive, urgent effort by both the South African and Zimbabwean governments. If need be, we should be considering the construction of another road to South Africa - for example the most direct (as the crow flies) route is south through Kezi."

"But in the short term, radical measures need to be introduced at Beitbridge - this is a national embarrassment and is costing Zimbabwe hundreds of millions of dollars of lost potential tourist revenue and other revenue every year," Coltart said.

Former diplomat and political analyst Clifford Mashiri agreed with Coltart that the border congestion is embarrassing. He said he sympathises with Coltart, who seems to care enough to write about alternatives on Facebook, but has no power.

Mashiri said the situation will not be looked at or dealt with as Robert Mugabe and many of his ministers are out of the country on holiday, so no cabinet meetings can be held.

"Because of Mugabe's leadership style nothing happens when he is not around. He is now somewhere in Asia and no minister is willing to make decisions about the congestion and face the music," Mashiri explained.

But as the Beitbridge doesn't affect the ruling elite, it's very unlikely they would do anything to resolve the problem.

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