Soldiers at Beitbridge Border Post had to fire warning shots into the air yesterday to quell a potentially volatile situation after a rowdy crowd charged at customs officers after refusing to comply with border formalities. It is understood that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority's loss control department is conducting intense searches of all imports coming via Beitbridge to maximise revenue inflows.
This move is reported to have angered cross-border transporters, commonly known as Omalayitsha.
"They started by staging a peaceful sit-in and they used their vehicles to block the border in protest against the request by Zimra officials that those without travellers' rebates for specified goods should pay duty," said a border official.
"Upon realising that the customs authority was not relenting on its stance, the drivers then thronged the search bays on the commercial side and disrupted operations. Some even attempted to drive off without being searched.
"The soldiers moved in when the protesters turned violent and started throwing stones and shouting obscenities. They fired warning shots to disperse the crowd when efforts to calm them (Omalayitsha) proved fruitless.
"However, nobody was injured during the fracas, which happened between 7am and 8am."
Zimra's head of communications Mr Taungana Ndoro said he was yet to get information on the border situation.
"I am yet to receive an update on that incident," he said.
The Herald is reliably informed that the country is losing millions of dollars due to intrusive leakages and underhand dealings at Beitbridge Border Post and along the border with South Africa.
In addition, Zimra is collecting at least $400 million in commercial cargo alone at Beitbridge Border Post annually.
Sources said this was the third year that Omalayitsha or haulage trucks drivers have protested over various issues to do with border formalities.
When our news crew visited the border post around midday yesterday, operations had normalised, with the cross-border drivers complying with the country's customs laws.
There were long queues of light vehicles and small trucks laden with an assortment of goods destined for various destinations.
Security personnel, including soldiers, the police and guards employed by a private company, were patroling the border area.
In separate interviews, some of the Omalayitsha said they would love to comply with the customs laws, but accused Zimra of deploying inadequate staff to the search bays and cash counters, resulting in the slow movement of traffic within the border area.
An estimated 1 500 light vehicles, most of which belong to the Omalayitsha, pass through Beitbridge Border Post daily.
In addition, a total of 15 000 haulage trucks, 2 100 buses and 170 000 people use the same port of entry to access either Zimbabwe or South Africa per month.