BUSINESSMEN in Musina, South Africa, have vowed to take on their government over the Immigration Department’s poor and slow service at Beitbridge Border Post, which they say is ruining their businesses.
BY OWN CORRESPONDENT
Since last week, shoppers were riled by the slow service, which saw them taking up to eight hours to cross into South Africa, delays immigration staff blamed on the biometric capturing system.
It is understood they were instructed by their head office in Pretoria to use the biometrics, hoping it would assist the country, arrest runaway crime they believe foreigners are party to.
A supervisor in the Immigration Department of South Africa, one Chauke, was hostile when approached for a response.
“There is no access for you here, go and come through the other door,” he said directing the reporter to a locked disused entrance before walking away with a woman in civilian clothes.
Confusion is reigning supreme on the SA side of Beitbridge as officers struggle with a seemingly unfamiliar biometric system.
“We arrived at the South African side at 6am and we were cleared to go through at 2pm. The queue was slow-moving and officers seemed new to the fingerprint system they are using,” Sipho Dube of Bulawayo said.
Dube travels fortnightly to Musina, at times Polokwane, to buy goods for resale at her flea market.
A conductor with a cross-border bus company who has worked on that route for 11 years, said he has never seen delays like these before.
“I started working on this route in 2007 and have never experienced such delays. This has gone out of hand,” he said, alleging his bus arrived at 6pm only to be cleared at 2am the following day.
Since July 2014, SA has been rolling out biometric identification techniques at all its border posts.
According to their website, these include facial recognition based on passport and identification documents as well as fingerprinting.
Although facial recognition has long been employed by immigration departments worldwide fingerprinting was expected to eliminate rampant fraud and identity theft employed by human traffickers and sophisticated border jumpers.
It is believed over 3 million Zimbabweans live in SA legally or otherwise after being frustrated from home by ousted former President Robert Mugabe’s misrule, which affected the economy.
Most used stolen documents or jumped the border.
SA says the technology will also enable the department to profile and record all immigrants with miss-identification of an individual no longer a possibility.
It is, however, the notion that the process is quicker and more reliable than the traditional facial recognition which recent crowding and meandering queues have disproved.
“It has affected our businesses. The attitude of the immigration officers is not good. We depend on Zimbabwean shoppers who oil the food, transport, motor spares and building supplies industries of Musina and other nearby towns,” a member of the Musina Trade and Commerce Association Andreas Baloyi said.
“It’s time we have immigration officers at our border who appreciate the value of people entering our country. If someone brings R40 to taxi business that is a lot of money,” Baloyi said.
Musina, SA’s northernmost town has in recent years expanded with a multi-million rand shopping mall completed late last year, courtesy of an average of 18 000 shoppers a day who pass through Beitbridge.
“With the attitude of officers in the immigration office now, this growth will not be realised. They need retraining or redeployment because the complaints are too many to be false,” a manager at a branch of a supermarket chain popular with Zimbabwean shoppers said.
Taxi operators plying the Musina-Beitbridge route, just like dozens of used car dealers across the border, complained of a slump in business this week.
“Our customers have been complaining about the slow movement at the border. We have not made many trips of late,” Robert Ramavhuya, a taxi operator plying the route, said.