SW Radio Africa (London)

Zimbabwe: Christmas Chaos At Beitbridge

The border crossing at Beitbridge is reported to be extremely overcrowded with Zimbabweans and other travellers as the Christmas holiday approaches, with some saying they were stuck at the border for three days while returning from South Africa.

According to the government's own Chronicle newspaper, figures provided by immigration officials show that more than 137,000 travellers passed through Beitbridge two weekends ago. An even greater volume of travellers passed through this weekend.

Authorities on both sides of the border crossing have recruited extra staff for the holidays and travellers are being processed in separate queues from commercial traffic, in efforts to reduce congestion.

But all this will not resolve the annual chaos and congestion that plagues the country's busiest border crossing, according to Gift Chimanikire, the MDC-T shadow defence minister, whose relatives were stuck at the border for three days when they returned from South Africa this weekend.

"It took them three days because of shoppers that had gone down south and are coming back into Zimbabwe, as well as holiday makers that are working in South Africa. It is quite a struggle crossing the border at the moment because of heavy volumes of traffic," Chimanikire told SW Radio Africa.

He explained that traffic to South Africa has increased over the years as more and more Zimbabweans turn into "private entrepreneurs" due to high unemployment.

"Most of these traders are just people who are trying to eke out a living without even a trading license and skills to do that. So people trek down south and back with various wares they are trying to sell on the market. Everybody is becoming a trader," the former Mbare legislator said.

He added: "If you look at the current budget that we will discussing in parliament the first week of January, it is very clear that imports are in the region of between 7 and 8 billion dollars while our exports are between 2 and 3 billion. So there is a trade deficit there."

As for a permanent solution, Chimanikire said: "What is required is actually an expansion of the facilities. The through ways are just too narrow for people to be processed in massive volumes so I think we need to increase the facilities that are there, otherwise there is no light at the end of the tunnel."

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