Large numbers of people continue to cross the border at Beit Bridge between South Africa and Zimbabwe despite the erection of a 40 kilometre stretch of fence. The fence has cost R37 million so far and is aimed at stopping criminals and Zimbabweans from crossing over to South Africa.
Smugglers on foot and using donkey carts brace the murky and crocodile-infested Limpopo River to illegally take goods across the border. Some of them are as young as 12-years-old. They operate from an informal settlement, near the banks of the river.
They cross the river daily. A smuggling syndicate assist them to take their goods across the river. This happens despite the increased number of soldiers patrolling the Beit bridge border line. One of smugglers says they also help people who cross into South Africa to buy food and to search for jobs.
“We charge per box soap, we carry it over across the river. I share the money with the operator of the donkey cart. We support our family from doing this. If I don’t come here and do this, my family will starve. This is better than stealing, we put food on the table for our kids out of this.”
“We assist border jumpers to take goods across the river and get little money to feed our families because the living condition that side is bad. The soldiers demands us to follow the law but sometimes some feel for us and allow us to travel to go and buy food. We are not stealing, we just go there to buy food,” says a mother of four, who has been assisting illegal immigrants for 10 years.
In the video below, authorities say the situation at the border needs urgent attention:
Police spokesperson, Vishnu Naidoo, says they have informed their Zimbabwean counterparts about such activities.
“During the joint operations they detected people trying to cross the river, from Zimbabwe coming into South Africa. As a result of this, seven people were arrested. They are currently in police custody. We are busy processing them. They were others who escaped back into Zimbabwe and the authorities in Zimbabwe have been alerted,” says Naidoo.
Some of the people staying at that informal settlement are South Africans. Head of the Vhembe District COVID-19 Command Council Executive Mayor, Dowelani Nenguda, who was part of the joint operations, is worried about the situation.
“We arrived here by the river and at this informal settlement where people mostly illegal Zimbabweans are staying here. We found six people hidden at the back of the bakkie, the driver and those people have since been arrested. We can see over hundred people across the river ready to come this side. Their work to is smuggle goods between the two countries. Our main worry is the damaged borderline fence but soldiers are around in large numbers,” says Nenguda.
Authorities worry that people could be transmitting COVID-19 as they move between the two countries unregulated. The number of COVID-19 infections has risen to 9 420 with 186 death in the country. Zimbabwe has 34 COVID-19 infections and four deaths.