Worry grows over crowd massed at SA border as Covid second wave bites

Wednesday January 13 2021
Beitbridge border.

Suspected undocumented Zimbabwean nationals after being rounded up by South African soldiers for trying to illegally cross the border. PHOTO | AFP


South Africa is experiencing a second wave of Covid-19 infections, made deadlier by a more virulent variant virus.

The situation is, however, not being helped by what can now be considered a super spreader hotspot, as thousands of people push and shove at the Beitbridge Border Post in a bid to complete immigration formalities and cross into South Africa from neighbouring Zimbabwe.

The heat is blistering but it does not deter any of them. Maintaining social distance is almost impossible as the South African National Defence Forces struggle to control the chaotic scenes.

As the Immigration offices close for the day at 2100 hours because of the curfew, the travellers sleep in the open, packed like sardines.

It is a desperate situation for the predominantly Zimbabweans at sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest land port of entry. There are a few Malawian, Tanzanian and Zambian nationals, most of whom have already missed days of work.

“I have been here since January 2 and I was supposed to start work on January 4. I have already lost three days of work,” laments Stella Mushangwe, a domestic worker returning to her workplace in Pretoria after spending the festive holiday in her hometown of Masvingo, Zimbabwe.


“My coronavirus test certificate has already expired and authorities here said they would test us again but they are yet to and we are just waiting. It’s frustrating.”

Miss Mushangwe’s story resonates among the hordes of travellers in a similar predicament.

With the soldiers battling to have the large crowd practice social distancing, this makes the mayhem a potential Covid-19 super spreader event.

Fake certification

This comes as South Africa’s hospitals are already under severe strain due to the second wave of coronavirus. The country has already breached the one million mark in infections as well as a little more than 30,000 deaths have been recorded.

There are concerns that most of the people who will enter South Africa from the border will get infected and will spread the virus at their various destinations.

These are the fears shared by Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi who spent the better part of Monday at the border assessing the situation.

He says the situation poses a “humanitarian crisis.”

“Those who came without Covid-19 clearance certificates undergo a repeat antigen test at the border and if found positive, they were sent back,” Dr Motsoaledi said.

“Not because we hate human beings but because our hospitals are already full and unable to cope. So, we cannot take more people into South Africa who need medical help.”

More than 500 people have been arrested and deported for producing fake clearance certificates at the border.

A few who have made it through the border with the fraudulent documents have been nabbed at roadblocks on their way to various destinations.

“Those persons must be returned for they are fraudsters” said Dr Motsoaledi.

“You can’t just come with a fraudulent document and they look at it and smile, saying ‘oh it’s fraudulent, let’s test you again.’ It cannot happen in that way. The person who wants to enter your country with a fraudulent document undermines your sovereignty.

Social media support

“I do not need to be told because I personally saw fake Covid-19 clearance certificates. There is corruption in the countries of origin. The ones I saw at Beitbridge were from Zimbabwe. They put a letterhead of a particular laboratory and a phone number that it does not exist. Those are the ones we arrested and turned back. We stamped their passports as undesirable to enter South Africa.”

“We don’t know who typed or produced the fraudulent documents so we arrest the traveller who appears handing it over to our officers.”

Pressure at the border, however, started slowly easing on Wednesday when the number of people crossing into South Africa decreased due to a total lockdown imposed by Zimbabwe on Tuesday.

In the latest lockdown restrictions, cross-border traders are forbidden to travel to South Africa. Only commercial and transit cargo is permitted to cross the border.

Some South African nationals have, however, mobilised each other on social media calling for the shutting down of the Beitbridge border under the hashtag #CloseBeitbridgeBorder.

But the Commissar of opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, who is also a member of parliament, is critical of the way the South African government has responded to the Beitbridge crisis.

“This #CloseBeitbridgeBorder hashtag must be rejected with all the contempt it deserves. Let our people in. They are part of us! They live here and have been living here for centuries! Closing the border is inhumane and will breed the worst humanitarian crisis than Covid-19.

“SADC is breeding a big humanitarian crisis on South African borders. How can these governments look at masses of African people, body to body, flocking into SA required to give Covid-19 certificates they know well no single country on the continent has capacity to produce?

“During Lockdown Level 5 last year we were with our brothers and sisters from Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique. We flattened Covid-19 curve together. It is lockdowns, social distancing, masks and sanitisers that help us reduce Covid-19 infections. Not abuse of foreign nationals.”

As the foreign nationals continue to flood South Africa especially from Zimbabwe, it is yet to be seen how many more coronavirus cases would be recorded in the upcoming days after the Beitbridge havoc deemed as a potential super spreader event.