SA deploys army to block entry by Zimbabwean illegal immigrants

Tuesday January 05 2021
South Africa police.

A South African policeman points his pump rifle to disperse a crowd of shoppers in Yeoville, Johannesburg, on March 28, 2020 while trying to enforce a safety distance outside a supermarket amid concern of the spread of Covid-19. PHOTO | AFP


South Africa has deployed army helicopters to patrol its border with Zimbabwe to stop illegal immigrants from flocking into the country after the festive season.

Thousands of Zimbabwean immigrants travelled home ahead of the Christmas holidays and authorities say the majority of them used illegal entry points as they do not have passports.

Some immigrants used fake Covid-19 clearance certificates to cross the border, fuelling fears of a surge in coronavirus cases in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The economic refugees are now returning to South Africa, leaving authorities on the edge as they fear a surge in cross-border coronavirus infections.

Aaron Motsoaledi, the South African Home Affairs minister, said police will also use boats to patrol the Limpopo River, which forms most of the 200 kilometre borderline with Zimbabwe.

Mr Motsoaledi, who was at the Beitbridge border post at the weekend to monitor the situation, said 500 illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe were being arrested every day.


He said they are worried about the number of people from Zimbabwe turning up at the border with fake Covid-19 clearance certificates.

““We have said this before - that we heard rumours that there are people who will come with fraudulent certificates and have found them and we are returning them.

“We are arresting people with no documents, either Covid-19 certificates or passports. Even (on Saturday) they arrested 500 people. That’s happening every day.

“(Border officials) showed me a video where Zimbabwean soldiers and police were helping people to come (to South Africa).”

Zimbabwe lockdown

Zimbabwe at the weekend closed its borders for human traffic as part of a new tight lockdown to slow down the spread of Covid-19 after a spike in cases during the Christmas holiday.

Citizens working in other countries are, however, still being allowed to leave Zimbabwe.

The southern African country has seen Covid-19 cases and deaths double in the last two months.

On Sunday, Zimbabwe registered a record 774 cases, the highest daily figure since the country first recorded a Covid-19 case in March.

The figure pushed Zimbabwe’s cumulative Covid-19 cases to 15,265, with 11,574 recoveries and 380 deaths.

Ahead of Christmas, authorities at the Beitbridge border post, the biggest port of entry between Zimbabwe and South Africa, had to suspend Covid-19 screening as thousands of people tried to cross, leading to congestion.

At least 15 people died on the South African side of the Beitbridge border in lengthy queues that were slowed down by coronavirus screening, which was later suspended as travellers spent days waiting to be cleared.

South Africa, which has an estimated 1.5 million Zimbabwean economic refugees, is suffering a second wave of Covid-19 infections that authorities say is being driven by a new variant of the coronavirus.

The virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.