BY SILAS NKALA
THE number of desperate Zimbabweans using illegal entry points along the Limpopo River to access medical treatment and cheap basic commodities and drugs from South Africa has shot up, a Beitbridge legislator has said.
Most Zimbabweans who survived on cross-border trading suffered a serious setback following the closure of borders in March, forcing many to illegally cross the borders to restock.
Beitbridge East legislator Albert Nguluvhe (Zanu PF) on Wednesday said most border jumpers were not Beitbridge residents, but came from as far as Chiredzi, Masvingo, Tsholotsho and other places to access cheap food and medication.
He said the border jumpers were putting the nation at risk of contracting COVID-19.
“We have raised this issue with the concerned ministries and the police so that there is an increase in the border security personnel,” Nguluvhe said.
“We also need to educate the people that this practice of border jumping is risky. Our people cross illegally into SA saying they need to buy food and medication, but can we risk our lives just because we want food and medication? I have challenged the government to increase the availability of cheap food at local shops. This will reduce the amount of people crossing illegally to SA to buy food.”
Prices of basic goods and medication have continued to skyrocket as the Zimbabwean dollar crashes against major currencies.
The nurses and doctors strikes which have crippled public heal institutions have also forced many Zimbabweans to seek medical treatment in either Zambia or South Africa where it is readily available and affordable.
Nguluvhe said COVID-19 awareness campaigns were required to educate citizens on risks of border jumping.
South Africa has over 503 000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 8 153 deaths, while Zimbabwe has 3 169 cases and 64 deaths.
The human rights watchdog, Zimbabwe Peace Project recently expressed concern over the poor border controls saying border jumpers could be spreading the coronavirus from the neighbouring countries.
Habakkuk Trust, a civic organisation, also said the illegal movement of persons through undesignated points between Zimbabwe and her neighbours was increasing the chances of transnational transmission of COVID-19.
“These illegal entry points increase the chances of COVID-19 cases entering without detection. In spite of the bilateral commitments put in place by these nations, combating the spread of the coronavirus in the face of border jumping and illegal migration remains a challenge,” the trust said in a report.
“Host communities that house porous entry points are at a higher risk of infection. Areas such as Maitengwe, Nswazwi and Tshitshi in Bulilima and Mangwe districts are at a higher risk of transmission as they are conduit points of border jumping.”
Matabeleland South police spokesperson Chief Inspector Philisani Ndebele on Thursday said despite the police increasing surveillance along the borders, they were not enough to block all illegal points.
“Police patrols have always been there and several arrests have always been made and as we speak on Wednesday we arrested people who were smuggling large quantities of broncleer at Beitbridge,” Ndebele said.
“What we can appeal for as police is that, yes, border jumping has always happened but we appeal to the people that those who skip the border will be going to certain homes, villagers must not accept them, they must report them to the police or health response teams.”
State security agents have been accused of being complicit in border jumping activities as they allegedly get bribes to let the people and smuggled goods through.