10 January 2020
Nearly 60,000 people crossed the Beitbridge border post in a 24-hour period last week. This is according to Home Affairs after complaints of long waiting hours, chaotic queues and understaffing at the border.
Thousands of people travelling back into South Africa say they arrived at the border late evening on 3 January and were only assisted the next day.
Scores of people sat in long snaking lines waiting to be served by South African immigration officials. Others sat around the immigration area with their belongings and slept the night. GroundUp spoke to people who had been waiting several hours to be seen by an immigration officer. One woman who had arrived at 11pm said her brother was waiting for her on the other side of the border to drive her back to Johannesburg. She was only assisted after 9am. Another Zimbabwean woman said she had left her young baby with her husband. She went to buy goods and did not expect that it would take this long when returning. It is unclear when she was assisted.
When we arrived, only one immigration officer was busy processing and assisting people. During previous visits, five immigration officers were there to serve people travelling into the country. More staff only arrived at 7am on 4 January.
By then, travellers were exhausted and had begun shoving and pushing to get to the front to be served. One staff member tried to keep people calm but they did not listen. After about 30 minutes of chaos, several police officers arrived. They ordered the group to stand in three lines. People endured scorching temperatures and were only served by midday on 4 January.
Siya Qoza, spokesperson for the Minister of Home Affairs said that 51 immigration officers were meant to be on duty all the time. He said that a total of 29,832 people had crossed the border on 3 January. The next day, 53 immigration officers were on duty and 30,137 people crossed into the country, he said.
When asked why more staff were not sent to assist during one of the busiest periods, Qoza said he could not respond to this.