Beitbridge residents said they were sceptical about the move made by the National Social Security Authority to allow the use of its non-operational US$39 million Beitbridge hotel as a COVID-19 quarantine centre, saying it was likely to expose the border town to the dreaded coronavirus.
By Rex Mphisa
Beitbridge has about 60 000 residents and handles a transit population of over six million people annually.
To date, the border town has not recorded any COVID-19 positive case.
“I think we deserve better and this should be taken outside town. This small town has been government’s cash cow, but has nothing to show for that,” businessman and farmer Elias Chibi fumed.
“We haven’t even received the money meant to benefit us from the New Limpopo Toll Bridge and here is a new burden. If anything goes wrong, we are all dead.
“As government has been doing, they should take a leaf from South Africa, whose quarantine for returnees from China is outside Polokwane, a densely-populated city.”
South Africa quarantined the 122 people airlifted from China at a resort place 35km outside the Limpopo provincial capital, Polokwane.
“We have such places in the bushes of Nottingham Estates and along the Harare Road and not in the centre of Beitbridge town,” Chibi said.
A businesswoman, who chose to remain anonymous, said she would relocate if travellers were quarantined in the town.
“I will close shop and leave. It’s a disaster I will not wait considering leakages at Beitbridge and countrywide. This must be taken away from overpopulated areas because that’s the purpose of a quarantine,” she said.
NSSA offered the now-defunct 136-room hotel once leased by the Rainbow Tourism Group (RTG) before shutting down in May 2016 to be used as an isolation centre.
“We are at a place with serious cases of leakages and anything is possible here. The Ministry of Health and Child Care, like all government departments, cannot be accountable at all and statistics are there for all to see,” the businesswoman said.
“We need people that can be trusted and ideally, this facility must be in a place where it is hard for anyone who has escaped to find it easy to mingle.
“People here are corrupt and some quarantined people could buy their way out. Police cannot be trusted and the army too,” the businesswoman said.
Beitbridge town clerk Loud Ramakgapola saw a big opportunity which he said the town should latch on.
“This could be okay on humanitarian grounds, but that’s not all. It is an opportunity to turn it even into a hospital, a satellite university, a nurse training facility or even a business complex. As a local authority, we are worried it has stayed that long without being used. Slowly, its non-functionality may be taken as normal and we stand to lose out as a town. It is deteriorating and white elephants are never any growing town’s desire. Let’s turn good the misery of this epidemic,” he said.
“We are ready to help NSSA look for occupants if it’s turned into a business complex.”
A shipping agent Jabulani Ndou said: “It’s a noble idea people must be quarantined and strictly vetted and tested. We have lots of trucks and buses from the Sadc region passing through.”