Lack of planning around Covid-19 testing led to border congestions – committee

Crowds of people entering South Africa from Zimbabwe before going through customs at the Beit Bridge border post, 4 January 2021, Limpopo. Picture: Jacques Nelles

One of the main contributing factors to the congestion was the Covid-19 tests, which people had to do before they could enter South Africa.

The congestion at the Beitbridge border post in Limpopo, which connects South Africa and Zimbabwe, appears to have been brought about by a lack of planning and foresight around Covid-19 tests.

These were the sentiments of members of parliament’s portfolio committee on home affairs, who conducted an oversight visit on Tuesday.

As the new year rang in, News24 reported that there were long queues and desperate attempts to enter South Africa.

Videos circulating on social media showed chaotic scenes at the busy Beitbridge border post, with thousands of Zimbabweans desperately trying to cross into South Africa, shortly before their country went into a hard lockdown.

At the time, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi acknowledged that a “humanitarian crisis” might be unfolding at the border post, but said that government had done all it could to alleviate the situation.

Portfolio committee members were given a presentation by the different sectors that work at the border and were taken on a walk around the border post.

One of the main contributing factors to the congestion was the Covid-19 tests, which people had to do before they could enter South Africa.

Alternatively, people attempting to enter South Africa could also present a Covid-19 certificate, not older than 72 hours.

However, according to EFF committee member Mgcini Tshwaku during the briefing, it was revealed that the cost of testing in South Africa was far cheaper than in Zimbabwe.

Tshwaku said that South Africa charged R170 for a test, while Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 test costs around $60 or just over R920.

Tshwaku said it was clear that Zimbabweans were obviously coming to the border to get tested as it was far cheaper.

This led to the influx of people, which port health and the testing centres were not prepared for.

He said the health department at the border post were understaffed as a result.

“There was not proper planning, they were not anticipating what was going to happen,” Tshwaku said.

Answer

“We will raise these questions in the portfolio committee, the Department of Health will have to answer some very serious questions.”

The DA’s Angel Khanyile echoed similar sentiments.

“What was clear [is] that the department has no plan in managing or protecting the borders,” Khanyile said.

“One would have thought there would have been a proper plan in place between Home Affairs, health, SANDF and Department of Transport in how they would manage the issue of the entry.”

“It’s very clear that this was not done. During the presentation, we were told that the reason there was congestion is because apparently the antigen test is cheaper in South Africa.

“So the challenge was when people arrived in South Africa, they didn’t have enough health officials to check for the forms and could also not do the antigen tests on time.”

Khanyile added that Covid-19 could not be used an excuse as it’s been around since at least March 2020 in South Africa and proper planning should have been in place with the foresight that there would be movement between the borders.

Portfolio committee chairperson Bongani Bongo pointed out that the situation had since been alleviated following the lockdown by Zimbabwe and more recently, the decision by South Africa to close all the land ports of entry to deal with the second wave of Covid-19 infections.

On Tuesday, there was very little movement at the border post, with mostly trucks passing through.

At the end of December, Beitbridge had to deal with a similar situation, but this time it was the congestion of trucks that queued for kilometres, trying to get across to Zimbabwe.

Bongo said the issues at the border was as a result of a lack of planning around the implementation of the Border Management Authority Act.

He added that he would be going back to Parliament to make sure there was funding for the building of a one stop border post, which means that everyone would be processed by both countries under one roof at Beitbridge.

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