THE business community has expressed concern over the situation at Beitbridge border post, saying the long queues at the busiest inland port in Southern Africa had seriously affected the flow of business.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Mr Kumbirai Katsande said yesterday the queues, stretching for over 10km outside the border post, on roads leading to Harare and Bulawayo, have impacted negatively on local businesses.
The congestion was worsened by the increase in number of people travelling back to SA, where an estimated three million Zimbabweans live.
"Most of our members have been affected by the delay in the movement of people and goods at Beitbridge, especially those in the retail industry," said Mr Katsande.
"As you know, with retailers, if you miss a day of work, it is as good as missing the whole week. It is difficult for the authorities to foresee all these problems. But we should develop a way to deal with them once they arise. The problem should be controlled from both the Zimbabwean and South African sides."
SA authorities said on Monday they would deploy more immigration officers and open up more clearance points at their side of the border.
Mr Katsande said there should be a review of the situation at Beitbridge border.
"There has been talk of a second route at Beitbridge and I believe this should be speed- ed up so that we can ease the congestion at the border," he said.
"The town of Beitbridge should be improved to accommodate the growing number of people that pass through. We have to look at issues of water and sanitation and improve the situation."
Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister David Coltart, in a Facebook post yesterday, described congestion at Beitbridge as "a national embarrassment" and an obstruction to Zimbabwe's bid to attract foreign tourists.
He suggested a new border post between the two countries.
"We have to move from talk to urgent action . . . 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 ... route is south through Kezi . . . that road needs to be upgraded and a new border constructed over the Shashi and a road constructed through Botswana direct to, say, Martin's Drift," he wrote.
The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it was also concerned but did not believe the opening of a new border post, though worthwhile, would solve the problem.
The chamber's chief executive, Neren Rau, told SA media the idea should be "how to improve road efficiencies that would promote trade and movement of people".
African Sun Group chief executive Dr Shingi Munyeza said in an interview yesterday the congestion at the border post was a "death penalty" to tourism and trade, considering the Beitbridge Border Post was the busiest dry port on the continent.
"We must realise the importance of the border and the trade linkages that other Sadc countries have with South Africa because the Beitbridge Border Post is both a trade route and a tourist route and, therefore, has to be efficient," he said.
Dr Munyeza, whose company operates a hotel in the border town, said the remedy was to make the current structure efficient.
He also suggested the creation of a Port Authority to eliminate bureaucracy and corruption.
Director of Outward Bound Zimbabwe (an adventure centre based in Chimanimani) Mr Dave Meikle last year lamented the congestion at Beitbridge, saying it was proving to be a liability to tourism in the Eastern Highlands.
"We are losing out on a lot of potential tourists, especially from South Africa due to the congestion at Beitbridge. Some tourists I have spoken to said if processing at the border takes more than two hours, then they are not willing to come into the country.
"Now, it is taking up to eight hours. You can imagine its negative impact on our tourism." Mr Meikle added that because of the cumbersome processes at the post, the country's tourism sector was losing out to neighbouring countries. A cross-border trader, Ms Julian Nzera, said her business had been negatively affected by the abnormal queues at the border. "I wanted to buy some school shoes from South Africa but with these queues, I cannot go and I have lost out," she said.