THE Beitbridge border post between Zimbabwe and South Africa is too important and strategic to be having the bottlenecks that have been the order of the day, not only after the recent festive season, but also in everyday operation.
When we talk of Beitbridge border post, we are not talking about your everyday border post where people in general cross to and from two respective countries.
Beitbridge is different to, say, the border post between Mozambique and Zimbabwe, or Zimbabwe and Malawi. It is like a mini port which caters not only to Zimbabweans, but also to Zambians, Malawians and many other landlocked countries.
May I also add that the border post is not only for Zimbabweans running from so-called economic problems, but is also used by genuine businesses, some of whose operations are not only good for Zimbabweans but also for the many South African companies exporting goods to Zimbabwe.
Just in case some are not in the know, 60% of goods sold in Zimbabwean supermarkets are from South Africa. I am not saying South African companies need Zimbabwean customers to survive, but I am sure the few companies that export to Zimbabwe will appreciate the sales they make in Zimbabwe.
Just in case some might think it’s because I am Zimbabwean, Zambia too is like a retail market for South African-made products, and Zimbabwe is the main link between the two countries.
Yes, the South African economy is too big to lose sleep over lost businesses to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, but the companies that sell their wares to Zimbabwe will certainly lose sleep over the lost business.
May I also point out that if Zimbabwean companies, which are already struggling, are to fold because of inefficiencies at the border post, more Zimbabweans will seek pastures in South Africa and in the process bring more strain to the economy.
It is against this background that I think the current chaos at the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe must be dealt with once and for all.
In this day and age, there is no justification for people to spend days at a border post between two countries. There is no justification for people who have almost nothing to declare to customs, and for virtually empty trucks to spend more than an hour at a border post.
The business community in Zimbabwe has already expressed concern over the situation at Beitbridge border post, saying the long queues at the busiest inland port in southern Africa has seriously affected business.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Kumbirai Katsande was quoted by The Herald as saying the queues - stretching for over 10km outside the border post on roads leading to Harare and Bulawayo - have impacted negatively on local businesses.
“Most of our members have been affected by the delay in the movement of goods at Beitbridge, especially those in the retail industry,” Katsande was quoted as saying.
Queues of up to 10km at Beitbridge border post are intolerable and unacceptable, says Zimbabwe's Education Minister David Coltart on his Facebook page. (Source: Bulawayo24 News.com)
Zimbabwe’s Education Minister David Coltart in a posting on his Facebook page reportedly described the congestion at Beitbridge as “a national embarrassment”. I hope he meant for both countries.
Without apportioning blame to anyone, authorities in both countries must see to it that this tragedy is not repeated as businesses have lost out on potential revenue and production.
There is no doubt that some, not all, Zimbabweans that failed to cross the border in time are crucial production members for their respective companies in South Africa.
Equally, there is no doubt that some of the businesses that failed to transport their wares between the two countries are actually the biggest customers for their respective suppliers in South Africa.
With the Africa Cup of Nations coming in a week or so, how will Zambians, Zimbabweans, Malawians and the like cross into South Africa?
What kind of picture will be painted when Zambians, the current African football champions, start complaining that they can’t get into South Africa?
*Malcom Sharara is Fin24's correspondent in Zimbabwe. Views expressed are his own.
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