Corruption, smuggling and border jumping: the Beitbridge Border Post
|November 24th, 2015|
|tags:||Beitbridge border, corruption, Zimbabwe, ZIMRA|
The Border Post serves about 10 000 travellers each day and approximately 4000 cars pass through the border each day with the figures soaring to 30 000 travellers and 10 000 cars per day during public holidays.
The defunct Zimbabwean economy has forced thousands of Zimbabweans into the diaspora, with South Africa being the biggest destination because of its proximity to Zimbabwe.
In the past, the majority of border jumpers (those crossing into South Africa without passports) used the crocodile infested Limpopo River as their crossing point. Now, one can illegally pay their way into the country from the comfort of their transportation vehicle of choice.
Corruption has become so rampant that for almost everything someone has to dip into their pockets to get things done.
Zimbabwean border jumpers wishing to cross into South Africa are helped by commuter omnibus drivers commonly known as ‘OMalayitsha’ who are well connected to the officials on both sides of the border and know who to bribe up until people cross to the other side.
A regular border jumper, Sinikiwe Mangena confessed to this reporter that they bribe their way into South Africa. “Commuter Omnibus drivers facilitate our crossing of the border. We pay the drivers R1200 each to cross into South Africa without the proper travel documents that are required.”
The drivers use that money to pay the border officials on the Zimbabwean side as well as the police and immigration officials when they get to the South African side.
“We would rather pay ‘OMalayitsha’ than risk our lives in the Limpopo River. It is now very scary and dangerous. There are a lot of ruthless muggers down there who rob, kill and rape women and are afraid of nothing” added Mangena.
“When I first went to South Africa, I went through the Limpopo River but now it’s very scary because there are a lot of muggers who rob people of their money, clothes and if you refuse they will kill you,” narrated another border jumper Denvord Ncube who frequently passes through the border illegally.
For many of these cross border drivers/ ‘OMalayitsha’ who ply the Zimbabwe-South Africa route, assisting border jumpers to make their journeys back and forth has become a profit-making venture.
“This is my job and I am well connected to both the police and immigration officials on both sides of the border,” said Mxolisi Tshabangu, a ‘Malayitsha’ who claimed to help about 20 people illegally cross into South Africa every week.
“As long as you give the officials and the police some money you will get people to cross without any problems. We normally pay about R600 on both sides of the border per person” said Tshabangu.
The majority of Zimbabweans, especially from the country’s southern provinces (Midlands, Masvingo, Matabeleland South, Bulawayo and Matabeleland North) flock into South Africa everyday to look for greener pastures as the Zimbabwean economy continues to slide into the mud with the continued closure of industries and an over 90% unemployment rate which has plunged people into persistent poverty.
While border jumpers crossing into South Africa pay a lot of money to ‘OMalayitsha’, those coming from South Africa also face the same fate. They have to pay the police officers on the South African side or risk being arrested and sent to the Lindela detention prison. The prison is famous among border jumpers for its over-crowding, lack of food and deplorable sanitary conditions.
“No one wants to spend a night in that prison. It’s better to bribe the police officers and go home without any problems,” said Collen Mwedzi, an illegal border jumper.
“If you are held at Lindela they will deport you after about 30-60 days. After you get to the No Man’s Land (between Zimbabwe and South Africa) they will dump you there with no food and in the hands of thugs” explained Mwedzi.
“We pay the South African police anything close to R100.00 at each check point to cross. When we get to the Zimbabwean side we then pay a R200.00 fine but if you don’t have that you can just go to gate and pay the officials R100.00 and they will let you pass” detailed Mwedzi, who seemed ever-ready to do what it takes to survive.
There are normally three security check points between Zimbabwe and South Africa at the border post.
People with overstayed passports have also added to the rampant corruption network at the border. Their passports are stamped with backdated stamps after paying sums ranging between R600 to R1000 depending on the days the person would have overstayed.
Overstayed passports attract punishments ranging from fines to cancellation or banning of entry into South Africa. If caught, travellers with overstayed passports are declared ‘undesired elements’ by the South African Home Affairs department.
More than twenty unidentified men can be seen loitering around the South African immigration offices and their job is to go to each arriving bus to ask for people with overstayed passports. These men get the payments and go to the immigration officials who then backdate the stamp. “We put the money inside the passport and they stamp them for our clients. We make a living from that,” said Ngoni Shoko who assists travellers with passport backdating.
With the implementation of Zimbabwe’s mid-term fiscal policy that put customs duty on all imports, the corrupt activities have widened with bus operators asking their passengers to pay R20.00 each to surrender to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) officials who then make sure that the buses are not thoroughly searched and passengers escape without paying any duty.
More than forty (40) buses cross into Zimbabwe from South Africa each day and each bus pays the ZIMRA customs officials about R1200.00 to get their buses cleared without being thoroughly searched.
When asked about how they managed to bribe the officials, one bus driver Tinashe Nyashanu* explained that they have link-men who will come and get the money and hand it over to the officials so that the officials are not caught.
“If you don’t pay the ZIMRA officials they will not come to search your bus and you end up spending more than seven hours in the queue”.
Passengers seem to also enjoy this R20.00 arrangement as it allows them to cross the border without paying customs duty and thus save a lot of money.
A ZIMRA official who requested anonymity admitted that Beitbridge is rotten with corruption and it was difficult for the authority to uproot it as it had become widespread but difficult to uncover.
“We know that corruption is rife at Beitbridge but so far it is difficult for us to act. We only prosecute those cases that come to our attention and when there is evidence, otherwise most of the underhand dealings are difficult to prove,” he said.
People who import used Japanese cars through the Beitbridge Border Post have joined the corruption band-wagon as they bribe officials so as to pay less customs duty.
The government of Zimbabwe introduced a hundred percent import duty on all luxury vehicles coming into the country and this has not helped matters as people connive with customs officials to undervalue the cars so that they pay less duty.
Some truck drivers also bribe the ZIMRA officials and under-declare their goods and pay less duty. As a corrective measure the ZIMRA normally rotate their staff to try and reduce corruption levels at the port of entry.
The porous Beitbridge border post has become bad as both countries lose millions of dollars in unpaid and under-paid customs duty.
The level of corruption has become frightening that it could trigger a massive rise in human trafficking especially children and the transportation of dangerous materials into both countries.