Maputo — The Mozambican immigration service (SENAMI) has confirmed that South Africa closed the main border post between the two countries, at Ressano Garcia, to passenger traffic, as from midnight on Thursday, as part of the lockdown imposed by the government of Cyril Ramaphosa, in response to the pandemic of the respiratory disease Covid-19.
"South Africa is a sovereign country and can take the measures it deems convenient for its security", said SENAMI spokesperson Celestino Matsinhe, at a Maputo press conference on Thursday. "We followed the announcement that the border would be closed as from midnight today, and we are on the ground to receive all Mozambican citizens who are returning to Mozambique because of this closure".
Mozambicans were pouring over the border - particularly because the mines where many of them work have closed in obedience to the lockdown. Rather than stay in the bleak surrounds of a miners' compound, the Mozambican mineworkers have opted to return to Mozambique where they will sit out the lockdown for the next three weeks. As many as 23,000 Mozambicans may have crossed the border at Ressano Garcia.
Matsinhe said safety measures were taken before the Mozambicans crossed the border. They were obliged to wash heir hands and were screened by a health brigade. The screening focuses on temperature - since a fever is one of the main symptoms of Covid-19. Some of the returning Mozambicans objected to the screening - but Matsinhe said that only those who had passed through the screening were allowed to enter Mozambique.
Matsinhe was not sure whether the South Africans would allow goods traffic to continue to cross the border, "but experience shows us that trucks carrying merchandise are given special treatment". This was the case, for instance, with Zimbabwe, where truck-drivers were exempted from the ban on cross-border movement.
But not all traders use trucks, and Ramos Marrengula, chairperson of the Association of Informal Workers (ASSOTSI) told AIM he was concerned that, if his members could not go freely across the border, "there will be a shortage of basic goods on the Mozambican market". Much of the food consumed in southern Mozambique (including meat, cooking oil, potatoes, onions and tomatoes) is imported from South Africa.
Also in response to the lockdown, Mozambique Airlines (LAM) is temporarily suspending its flights between Maputo and Johannesburg. The last LAM flight between the two cities took place on Thursday afternoon.
A LAM spokesperson told AIM the company had not yet calculated the potential financial losses, or how many passengers would be affected. LAM flights to Johannesburg usually carry between 50 and 70 passengers.
LAM is continuing to fly its other two international routes, to Dar es Salaam, and to Nairobi.