THOUSANDS of South Africa-based Zimbabweans who are on their way back to the neighbouring country are being subjected to delays lasting up to five hours as SA immigration officials are overwhelmed and failing to cope with the inflow of travellers.
By Rex Mphisa
At one time between 5 and 7am on Friday, the officials reportedly downed tools accusing the travellers of being disorderly.
A Zimbabwean journalist on his way to his Lesotho base, Ray Mungoshi, said the delays were frustrating and for a long period all systems were at a standstill.
“We passed the Zimbabwean side within 30 minutes of entering the Customs area on the Zimbabwe side, but waited for more than three hours on the South African side,” Mungoshi said.
“The officials at one time stopped work accusing us of being disorderly. It was frustrating, especially knowing there was nothing one could do. The situation changed dramatically around 8am when the female team leader devised means to have motorists and their passengers served in one section while those travelling by bus were served in another section.”
Before that, he said, there was so much chaos a traffic jungle formed inside the SA Customs yard.
Thousands of Zimbabweans based in South Africa travel back home during the December holidays when they take a break.
An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans live in South Africa, having fled poverty and political instability in their country where the unemployment rate hovers above 80%.
Many Zimbabweans settle for low-paying jobs mostly on SA farms and industries although others have work permits and are employed at competitive salaries in that country’s job markets.
Yesterday morning vehicle queues on the Zimbabwean side stretched for close to a kilometre from the immigration offices.
Tempers flared and road rage was a common sight as motorists tried to jump the queues managed by a private security company hired by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra).
Schools in South Africa open this coming week just like in Zimbabwe.
Money changers, water vendors and people selling foodstuffs made brisk business weaving between cars to trade rands for bond notes.
Beitbridge Immigration regional manager Nqobile Ncube on Wednesday said pressure had changed direction to the south but his office was ready for the challenge.
“It is not as much as just before Christmas and we are on top of the situation,” he said in a brief interview.
Meanwhile, several border jumpers were intercepted and brought back to Zimbabwe by SA officials last week.
The returnees were arrested at the entry gate after negotiating their way across Beit Bridge manned by police and members of the Zimbabwe National Army.