BY Rex Mphisa

PUBLIC bus operators and other stakeholders have asked immigration officials in both Zimbabwe and South Africa to investigate allegations that congestion, delays and confusion that recently dogged the Beitbridge border were man-made to fleece travellers of their money.

Desperate travellers, some who spent close to two days in queues that at one time stretched for close to 10 kilometres, ended up bribing their way to get served faster.

Thousands of Zimbabweans, Malawians, Zambians and South African nationals returning to their bases across the Limpopo River were from New Year’s Day caught up at Beitbridge, where queues to cross the border stretched for close to 10 kilometres as immigration officials reportedly maintained artificial bottlenecks.

Gate passes that are ordinarily issued freely to motorists entering South Africa were being sold for as much as R50 by bogus agents.

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Regional immigration manager for Beitbridge, Nqobile Ncube, said he was not aware of the allegations.

“Late last week, we saw the crowd was increasing and started releasing more vehicles to South Africa. We were communicating and each time we would release cars as they signalled,” he said.

Travellers singled out a shift headed by one official (name withheld) as the most corrupt.

“The bottleneck was on the South African side. Immigration officers were slow and deliberately took their time because people ended up offering large amounts of cash bribes just to be cleared into South Africa. This has always been happening, but this year the act was stepped up,” said a cross-border bus driver who plies the Lusaka-Johannesburg route.

“For us to have our passports processed, we collected money from our passengers asking each to put R200 per passport. We took the passports inside for processing even without the bearers,” the driver, who asked not to be named, said.

“An investigation must be made because this is an international border. Why has it become difficult this year?
Considering we are going towards a one-stop border post the process should be (smoother),” said another driver.

“Although queues were on the Zimbabwean side, the real bottleneck was on the South African side where the immigration officers often talked to bus crews to arrange their corrupt deals,” the driver said.

In some cases, gate passes were sold to motorists as officials deployed runners into the crowds of stranded travellers to search for potential clients.