Beitbridge Border Post: Haven of corruption, border jumping and smuggling in the midst of COVID-19

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ZIMBABWE is grappling with the negative effects of COVID-19 pandemic which has seen government enforcing the national lockdown that has further worsened the state of the economy and transferring the burden on the ordinary citizen.

This has forced many citizens to do the unthinkable to eke a living at a time when the informal trade is shutdown.

Informal trade is the major source of income for the majority of Zimbabweans hence the national lockdown has resulted in income haemorrhage for citizens.

COVID_19 pandemic has seen Zimbabwean living in the diaspora trooping back home as the effects of the pandemic continue to bite harder.

As of Monday, Zimbabwe had  384 confirmed cases, fifty-four recoveries and four deaths, with most of the infections being imported from returnees- South Africa forming the majority of the cases.

The returnees from South Africa are housed in Beitbridge for quarantine purposes.

Investigations by Zim Morning Post last week, established that South Africa returnees are being subjected to poor living conditions where they are sleeping on the floor surviving on small portions of food.

One of our investigative reporter managed to take images of the returnees inside one of the centres.

Returnees at a quarantine centre in Beitbridge over the weekend

Elsewhere,  at some quarantine centres in Harare, the situation is the same forcing the returnees to illegally find their way back into South Africa where they “suffer better”.

“Look here my brother when we were repatriated back home we assumed there is no place like home.

“However from the onset, when we came here the conditions at quarantine centres were squalid, after our release we had nowhere to start.

“In South Africa I was surviving on carpentry and here the informal sector is shutdown

“I have  become a burden to my brother who is also married and I’m complicating life for him , so I would rather jump the border and go back to SouthAfrica , kusiri kufa ndekupi,” narrated Israel Ndlovu (not his real name).

Israel gave this reporter the contacts of his friend who jumped the border on Saturday and he narrated his account of the ‘great trek’ back to South Africa.

The account exposed high levels of corruption at Beitbridge Border Post.

His initial repatriation and eventual return draws one back to  how many an O’ Level pupil confuses the principles of OSMOSIS and DIFFUSION!

A person flees South Africa the supposed Promised Land due to ill treatment and xenophobia to Zimbabwe- his homeland of little financial resources and forced to act vice versa again!

Simple definition of osmosis a  process by which molecules of a solvent tend to pass through a semipermeable membrane from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one.

In our case Beitbridge Border Post is the ‘semipermeable membrane’ where Zimbabweans pass through.

The common denominator is corruption, human trafficking, border jumping and smuggling of beer and other  basic commodities.

The border post is biggest port of entry in Sub-Saharan Africa linking Zimbabwe to South Africa and despite of the COVID 19 dangers, it has continued to be a hub and conduit of corruption stronghold as citizens bribe their way through to both sides of the border.

The COVID 19 bitten economy has forced many returnees to troop back to Mzansi.

Zim Morning Post understands that after South Africa erected a fence, the traditional illegal crossing point in the form of the crocodile infested Limpopo River has been abandoned.

The border jumpers and smugglers are now going through the border, abetted by a well-knit syndicate comprised of officials from ZIMRA, Immigration Department, Zimbabwe National Army, Zimbabwe Republic Police, South Africa Defence Forces and South Africa Police Services and agents.

The narration by our source and subsequent follow up and truth-checks established that in the ‘new ,  a  novel ‘modus operandi ‘has been adopted to jump the border.

Zimbabwean returnees wishing to cross into South Africa enlist the services of truck drivers who provide them with exemption letters to travel to Beitbridge where they then introduce them to agents who have strong connections to officials on either side of the Limpopo.

In his account our source said:

“The whole trip needs at least R2000.

“The truck driver links you to an agent who charges R600 to cross to Messina and we travelled in groups of 15 meaning he pockets R9000.

“He parts with about R1200 to bribe officials on both sides and we cross the border via the rail way line side.

“The river is now dangerous because of the fence and a lot of mugging,” he narrated.

The agents then horde basic commodities in Messina and supply Zimra officials who have shops in Harare, it was revealed.

“The network is so well knit such by the time you are at the bridge, the soldiers on the other side will be aware of your arrival and they usher you into hired vehicles to a house in Messina and the whole process is not more than R2000,” added our source.

There are normally three security check points between Zimbabwe and South Africa at the border post, but the returnees are smuggled in cargo.

Corpses are also reported to be smuggled to avoid the steep repatriation costs.

Zim Morning Post tried in vain to contact Zimra boss Faith Mazani but a senior official said Beitbridge is known to be the most corrupt border post but hard to contain.

The level of corruption has become alarming and paved way for smuggling of drugs, cigarrates and other illegal commodities to and from South Africa.

Some top Harare socialites have been implicated in smuggling fuel and grain via the same border.

During the pre-Covid 19 era, at its peak, it could serve about 10 000 travellers each day and approximately 4000 cars pass through the border each day with the figures soaring to 30 000 travellers and 10 000 cars per day during public holidays.

“We know that corruption is rife at Beitbridge but so far it is difficult for us to act. We only prosecute those cases that come to our attention and when there is evidence, otherwise most of the underhand dealings are difficult to prove,” an official was quoted as saying.

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