After touring the problematic Beitbridge border post, the South African parliament’s portfolio committee on home affairs has partly blamed a lack of adequate planning for the chaos.
In a statement dated Tuesday, it said the implementation of a one-stop border post with South Africa’s neighbouring countries and the establishment of a Border Management Authority would be a solution to the perennial challenges at the port of entry.
The committee visited the post at the Beitbridge border with Zimbabwe on Tuesday in response to the humanitarian crisis that unfolded during the festive season as Covid-19 checks resulted in delays and backed up queues for both human and cargo traffic.
Chairperson Bongani Bongo said after a briefing last May from the department of home affairs, the committee had identified a one-stop border post and Border Management Authority as vehicles of ensuring the smooth functioning of ports of entry and exit.
The committee was concerned about the slow progress in implementing this policy, Bongo said.
“The tardiness in implementing this policy position is both unacceptable and a contributing factor to problems at this port of entry,” he said.
The committee said efficiency in the movement of people and goods across borders was critical to achieving the objectives of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. A one-stop border post would ensure that South Africa and its neighbours operated on a similar platform, making crossing borders easy.
The committee said it was clear that there was “inadequate planning” especially considering the different health requirements in Zimbabwe and South Africa’s other neighbour Botswana. Conditions caused more trucks to divert and cross through Zimbabwe rather than Botswana.
“Had there been adequate plans in place, the increased truck volume would have been anticipated at Beitbridge. Also, according to the committee, planning would have ensured that there is adequate provision of health officials to assist with health screening at Beitbridge,” said Bongo.
The committee said the fact that the Polymerase Chain Reaction Test used for mandatory Covid-19 tests was cheaper in South Africa, logically meant that more travellers would opt to take the test in South Africa instead of Zimbabwe.
“It is thus unacceptable that this simple fact was ignored as capacity was not adequate,” said Bongo.
The committee however welcomed efforts by the South African government to resolve some of the border challenges and the work done by officials from different departments under “extremely difficult and stressful circumstances”.
“We remain committed to ensuring easy movement of people and goods, and thus we will continue our oversight work over the department to ensure that this crisis never happens again,” said Bongo.
The committee applauded Cabinet’s decision to close South Africa’s 20 land borders to the public, as a means to reduce congestion and the high risk of Covid-19 transmission.
It also recommended the increased presence of the South African National Defence Force and the South African Police Service at Beitbridge to curb illegal crossing which might increase as a result of the land port closures.
The committee will on Thursday visit Lebombo and Mbuzini borders to assess the implementation of measures to alleviate congestion.