TRUST me to spoil a feel-good story with silly facts. I know we all are desperate for any good news now, but for anyone to suggest, even remotely, or by inference, that we should start applauding another possible milestone decision that will make our movement through the borders faster is, I suggest, naive.
One just needs look at the “adjustments-for-the-good” that have been done at Chirundu to confirm my concerns.
I have passed through that border since independence. Here’s how the process went if you were driving.
Upon arriving on the Zimbabwe side, you proceeded to immigration, got your passport stamped, got yourself a gate pass and the cheery officer will be done with you in two minutes flat. Then to customs/Zimra some 10 metres away.
You declared whatever you had, filled a very short temporary export for the vehicle form in five minutes then went outside to the Police Car Theft people who checked your car, (police clearance obtaining that from Southerton is another matter!) and then back to the customs/Zimra chappies who happily stamped your papers and wave you goodbye.
You ducked back into your car, presented the gate pass to the person who sometimes got a little over-enthusiastic about your boot, but soon waved your through. The drivers using the narrow single lane bridge were usually disciplined and in no time you were parked by Zambian immigration.
First it was the immigration. Then you got into the backroom to join a long queue to fill a very long TIP (Temporary Import Permit) for the car. Someone forgot to add the colour of the car to the requirements on the form so you had to write it somewhere. You showed the Zimbabwe police clearance and the cross-border insurance and you were good to go.
You then walked out to face InterPol Zambia who wanted to know if the car wasn’t really stolen. One day they could just check your papers and let you go. On a bad day they would come armed with a white piece of chalk and appled it somewhere under the car to reveal chassis numbers where you never thought they would be.
Sometimes they would do that under the car seats. I thought they just wanted to impress me.
You then drove to the gate, 20 metres tops, where you stopped, got out and into the guardroom to fill a tattered registration in which most questions that had already been filled out on the TIP must be repeated for the pleasure of the guardroom attendant.
An hour and a half since driving into the Zimbabwe side you exit the Zambian immigration gate to be greeted by window-bashing money changers, but you were ready to take them on.
That was then. Then they built us a new bridge and realigned the processes, called them one-stop shop and said that the lives of travellers would now change forever. Only they didn’t tell us in what direction.
Here’s the new joyous process:
Coming from Zimbabwe, you don’t stop until you get into Zambia. You are greeted by a dozen touts whom you brush aside. Oh no. You will need them very soon.
First it’s the Zimbabwe Immigration. Two minutes, tops. Then it’s Zimra to fill the little export form.
Then it’s the Zimbabwe Car Theft people. One minute, tops.
Then Zambia Immigration. No problem except for the over-enthusiastic little girl who sought pleasure in doing what I hate the most, planting her stamp on an empty page of my passport. I gave her a piece of my mind and I thought for a moment they would deport me.
Then the fun starts with InterPol Zambia.
Then you join this long queue for the TIP. For some reason there is now just one person attending to the hundreds of people queuing and she, yes she, operates from this really cramped office. Documents and a huge computer compete for space on her desk. You feel really bad, but you just have to push yourself to the front, open the door and announce the death of a relative in Zambia whose funeral you just can’t miss.
Then, after the long fill-out you get out, tout in tow now, and present yourself at another window to folk out some money in the name of carbon tax.
You walk out into the sunshine at the back of the complex to present yourself to another single operator who charges you something called Siyavonga District Tax.
Finally, finally, you present yourself to this guy who really reminds me of the old Charge Office cop by the way he operates his computer, two fore-fingered. You pay road tax, hand him your passport and he starts entering all the details, printed it and then hands you the long receipt bearing your name and other details. I suspect they would include your blood type and sugar level if it appeared on your passport.
Have I told you already about the theft called Yellow Insurance? Oh, don’t ever make a mistake of leaving home without it. It costs in Zimbabwe 1/12th of what it does on the Zambian side of the border. Really!
Don’t forget to pay the tout who helped you beat the queues and doubled as your lecturer in currency exchange mechanism and negotiator with the money changer. You get the feeling you are being fleeced, but at that time you just want to get out. Three hours is too long.
You still have to come to terms with the guy at the gate who wants you to enter your life history in his tattered record book. I don’t believe anyone ever checks them.
Ok, upon return, you go through the new bridge to the Zimbabwe side. Only one payment to make here, the road tax. But the absolute mess is in the layout of the service hall. You simply don’t know where to go after the two immigration desks. You have to make just one $10-road tax payment, but the work the one person handling everybody does is certainly worth much more than the $10 she will collect.
The InterPol and the Zimbabwe Car Theft people are tucked somewhere in the back offices. There are no signs anywhere, simple feet on the floor to direct you where to go. I’m happy there are no touts allowed here, but it just makes your life miserable.
Few things officials could, and should consider, for our sanity, please:
On the Zambian side;
Increase the number of TIP issuers. They don’t need to operate from an office. The bane of Africa. We all have to have an office and a huge desk. WaOfisa, as they would say across the pond.
They should have just one consolidated collection for all the three taxes and distribute them among themselves. As it is, you hit first police road block where they want to see your TIP and yellow insurance. The next road block is a civilian one who wants to check your Siyavonga District Tax receipt. Travel with a document sorter to make your travel easy. You will hit a couple more up the road.
On the Zimbabwe side;
Simple common sense office lay out is required. The business hall must have been designed by a demented computer. The open office layout on the Zambian side is fantastic. It is only spoiled by the tax and tax and tax collection windows which they had to “accommodate” outside.
Fork out, like everywhere else in developed countries, the bit about $10 road tax. Simply give to petrol stations or vendors and let them keep a dollar or two and the efficiencies alone would double the income.
Just tell where to go after getting out of the immigration building, please.
Finally a word for Walter Mzembi and Obert Mpofu. Visit Chirundu if you would like a bit of shock entertainment. Don’t announce yourself. Cross the border, if you dare, and feel how the ordinary povo go through everyday.