It is with both a sense of achievement and great frustration that I felt compelled to share my recent experience at the hands of the border authorities at Beitbridge while trying to get clearance for my car.
On one hand, I have always admired people who take time to air their grievance about issues affecting the public and as such carry a sense of measured accomplishment for this article.
Based on what I heard and saw in Beitbridge, I am certain I speak for many.
On the other hand, it is sad that having recently arrived back in the country after many years away, all the excitement about returning has been wiped out and replaced by dread and concerns about the many hours I will need to spend in queues as I re-establish my life in Zimbabwe.
Between Thursday November 11 and Sunday the 14th, while attempting to clear my car through customs, I went through what appears to be the most unforgivable level of incompetence and an inept conduct at the hands of the authorities in Beitbridge.
I have extensive experience of world travel and have dealt with numerous public sector departments and feel quite qualified to critique the service at Beitbridge.
Having arrived in the border town on Thursday evening all the expectations of a Saturday return to Harare soon evaporated when confronted by what appeared to be a riot in progress on Friday.
Seeing so many distressed and helpless faces, both young and old, was heart-wrenching. How could such chaos be allowed to manifest?
What makes the whole thing so unforgiving is that the staff behind the counters seemed oblivious to all that chaos and went about their chores at an almost lackadaisical and nonchalant pace.
All this comes at a time when the country is desperate for investment and as such there is a need to facilitate a smoother transfer, not just for home-bound residents but for travellers in transit.
I am not at all vouching for preferential treatment for returning residents but simply asking for a minimum level of service from the authorities.
There are far-reaching consequences for the country due to unnecessary hours spent in queues.
A conservative estimation based on a straw poll from Friday is that the border post is potentially bleeding the country of an estimated $4,3 million (daily, weekly or monthly?) in lost productivity alone and that is before any additionality factors are considered.
What clearly became apparent during my time at the border post was that it has become virtually impossible to walk into a public office and expect straight-forward service without either paying someone or calling that relative high up in office before-hand to facilitate a favourable service, at the expense of the less connected fellow citizens.
I didn’t pay anyone but I now have two grey hairs and a higher level of blood pressure to show for it.
It’s generally true that many returning Diasporans (perhaps South Africa excluded) have been spoilt by the level of service offered in their adopted countries.
However, any reasonable person would understand that to expect the same level of service in Zimbabwe considering the years of decline is perhaps over-ambitious.
Still there are many simple solutions that can be implemented as a minimum to demonstrate a level of competence and as such manage the public’s expectations.
There is no such a thing as over- communication when it comes to dealing with the public. In my case, if I had been told to stay away until Saturday, I could have used Friday more productively than sitting around in the Zimra office in sweltering heat.
It was virtually impossible to get any of the staff members’ attention or when you did, to make sense of what they were saying. In fact, one was always left with more questions, a feeling of frustration and confusion after a short and dismissive conversation.
An effective numbering system has been used for many years and continues to be in use in many forward-looking countries. I can never understand why people are expected to queue up all the time.
The never-ending queues just add to the chaos and are to no one’s benefit, apart from the thuggish agents who thrive on flouting their very existence.
Finally, I would welcome a good explanation as to why only Manica is allowed to handle the storage of cars that are coming into the country. Frankly, having endured and survived Zimra, the last thing one wants is to have to spend another four hours in queues to collect your car.
I remember having a conversation with a fellow struggler in the queue about how long it had taken me to arrange for my car to be exported from the UK.
The answer was all in all, perhaps 30 minutes, save for the hour’s drive to drop it off at the port in Kent and not a penny paid to anyone for the service.
I certainly hope my experience was only a temporary one and that things do get better before any of my networks who are considering their return come home.
Although I have questioned my determination not to pay, I am filled with a great sense of accomplishment for having persevered and I am having the T-shirt with the words “I survived 3 Days at Zimra Beitbridge” to show for it made.
I do hope more and more people speak out and continue to demand without compromise, a better level of public sector service.
My advice to the boss at Beitbridge is to consult a good HR consultant and employment lawyer.
The changes required at the post are steeper than conventional developmental training or any recommendations from a good organisational behaviour book.
A root to branch culture change is required.
Time to go for a run to get that blood pressure back to normal.