A few people were yesterday unable to travel to South Africa after turning up at Beitbridge Border Post anticipating that the border would be reopened for general human travel, only to find old lockdown rules still in force.
South Africa had announced that, subject to new special and stricter testing requirements, it was ready to open 18 land border crossings, including Beitbridge, and three airports. However, crossing at a land border post requires similar regulations on both sides and Zimbabwe is yet to open its land borders to general human traffic although it is expediting the movement of commercial cargo.
The Government has indicated that land borders remain open only to commercial traffic, diplomats, returning residents and human remains being repatriated for burial.
There has been a lot of hype on social media about the border reopening in the last few weeks and by midnight Wednesday, some people had arrived at the border on the Zimbabwean side intending to cross into South Africa. But all were turned away by border officials during screening.
“I was not aware that the border is still closed to ordinary travellers. I intended to travel to Western Cape to visit my daughter who is not well, when I was informed of the current position. So I am going back to Mberengwa until things return to normal,” said Ms Sibongile Ncube.
Ten other people who wanted to enter in three vehicles from South Africa were also turned away by Zimbabweans officials.
The upgrade of controls on the South African side, where testing regulations have now changed, was delaying cargo traffic heading south until South African officials agreed to exempt for a day or two those trucks in transit when the regulations changed.
South Africa now wants Covid-19 clearance certificates from commercial truck drivers in line with the new regulations. Under the new standard operations procedures, truck drivers, crew members, and frequent travellers will have to produce Covid-19 test results that are not over 72 hours old. The results remain valid for 14 days after the first movement, but all truck drivers testing positive will be handled under new guidelines of the South African Department of Health.
Assistant regional immigration officer in charge of Beitbridge, Mr Nqobile Ncube, said the movement of commercial cargo improved after the Zimbabweans engaged the South Africans to cope with trucks that started their journeys before the rules changed.
“On our side, we still stand guided by the lockdown regulations as announced by the Government. We are only clearing the traffic that is permissible to access the border under our standard operating procedures.
“We have had minimal incidents where people who don’t fall in the set categories who were turned away. A few who had been cleared from South Africa were not allowed passage and we have informed our counterparts on the state of affairs,” he said.
Mr Ncube said it was critical for Zimbabweans to continue observing present lockdown measures to avoid unnecessary problems. He said travellers will informed should there be any changes to the status quo.
Mr Ncube said the issue around movement of commercial cargo was resolved and that those who were in transit when new regulations took effect were allowed to proceed.
“We have asked our colleagues to waive the passage for those who were already in transit from various countries when the standard operating procedures changed,” he said.
Several truck drivers said prior to the new set up, they were relying on permits issued in their home countries to travel across borders though they were subjected to standard World Health Organisation screening methods.
“We don’t have issues with the screening, but our appeal is that we should have been given enough time to put things in order. Most of the drivers heard about the need for a Covid-19 certificate at midnight upon arrival at the border,” said Mr Trynos Moyo.
An average of 1 000 trucks cross the Limpopo at Beitbridge into Zimbabwe or South Africa every day. Herald