SA closes Beitbridge border for systems upgrade

The halt of trade across the Zimbabwe-South African border, scheduled to run from 10pm on Monday until 2am on Tuesday, ran way over the scheduled time and cost Zimbabwe millions.

By Tuesday afternoon, the border was still closed and losses are estimated at several million dollars each day. Chaos resulted as goods piled up on both sides of the Beitbridge crossing point, and an enormous traffic jam formed. Rumours abounded as nobody seemed to know why the border was closed.

Official sources said the closure came as a decree from South African Immigration, which said it was upgrading its IT system from 10pm on Monday until 2am on Tuesday and refused to countenance any explanations or pleas.

"We will not be processing travellers during this period," reads the September 16 memo from SA Immigration. "We are therefore requesting that you stop travellers from entering the border during this period until the process is finished. The last batch of travellers to be processed are those that would be inside the port of entry before 9pm tomorrow. We will not accept entry after 9pm as we will be finishing with those who will be inside the port of entry."

Minister of International Trade Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga was locked in meetings at the time of going to print.

But a government official said the two countries have signed all sorts of collective agreements towards free trade and SA's sudden action was unacceptable.

"They suddenly and arbitrarily decided to close the border," said an official in the ministry of International Trade.

“Border closure and flagrant flouting of zero tariff agreements as part of economic protectionism need to end if progress is ever going to be made to achieve the one-stop border," the official said.

South Africa is reportedly dithering on an arrangement in which immigration and customs from both countries would be working at one point jointly clearing travellers and cargo bound for either direction. – Chief Reporter

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