Last week I travelled to South Africa and back by road. It wasn’t the most pleasant thing to do because soon as I got back, I was down with a sore throat and cold for three days. I am only just starting to get my voice back, thanks to six whole hours of being stuck out in the cold at Beitbridge border post.
I had always heard about the tedious delays at the border and the fact that Zim side always seems to be on go slow no matter when you cross, but that was not enough to prepare me for what I witnessed and went through. Apart from the irritated glares from the South African side officials, getting into South Africa wasn’t too difficult. It was the coming back into Zimbabwe that really stung. We arrived at the border at midnite and only left there around 6am. Even now when I really think of it, I cannot pin point what it is really that caused such ungodly delays. Ofcourse there were the usual long queues everywhere, people waiting for their goods to be cleared by the lackluster and bored Zimra officials. There were also a number of policemen who seemed particularly interested in harassing motorists, especially those who had trailers.
From this experience, two things really struck a chord within me. While we were still at the South Africa side of the border, a large haggardly group of refugees was force-marched through the building. The majority of them were scantily dressed in the biting cold, and a strong stench of stale sweat hung about them like a halo. The official who was leading the group impatiently barked orders at them to move faster in his local language. The refugees blankly stared at him and continued to move at snail pace. They did look too tired to jump even at the presence of a lion. The official suddenly shouted in broken English, “Move you fast, you blerry Somalis!” I was standing close enough to see the hate written all over the man’s face. He was clearly annoyed and stood there impatiently wringing his nose. One of the refugees shuffled up to him and said pitifully, “We are from Ethiopia, sir.” The official responded with a shove back in line and screamed, “Somalis, Ethiopians, Zimbagweans, you are all the same! Move!”
Outside, the dreaded Gumbakumba could be seen waiting, probably to ferry them to the notorious Lindela repatriation camp that has reputedly claimed the lives of many a Zimbabwean.
The other thing is; the contrast between the two border offices is so shocking you’d be forgiven for thinking that someone is playing a practical joke on you. From the well-lit and aerated offices of the South African side – complete with computers and verification equipment, it is such an antithesis to soon find yourself at the Zimbabwe side standing in a long queue in a dimly lit corridor, smelling nothing in the air but dysfunctional toilets that have not been cleaned for days. I have found it extremely disturbing that even in light of the momentous FIFA world cup, no moves have been made to computerize the country’s biggest border post. It is especially worrying considering how Zimbabwean authorities have recently been scurrying to enveigle football lovers to come and sample the irresistable tourist destinations of Zimbabwe. I can only imagine what those moving between the two countries by road will find in store. It is such a pity that the one opportunity presenting itself for Zimbabweans to make the most out of, our borders are in their worst state and may do nothing but give the wrong impression of whats actually within.