A local organisation representing informal traders has appealed to the Zimbabwe and South African governments to expeditiously facilitate the reopening of the Beitbridge Border Post to non-essential travel in the pursuit of bringing to an end the blight of smuggling during the current epoch of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the cross-border traders, who solely depend on buying goods from neighbouring South Africa and Botswana for sale locally, the surge in people crossing at illegal points poses a danger of spreading coronavirus and ‘may even expose women to rape, robbery and harassment among other viles that happen at these illegal points of entry or exit’.
The informal traders, whose activities have been adversely affected by the Covid19 lockdown, have since lobbied the Zimbabwe Government to reopen the Beitbridge Border Post and allow them supervised travel under strict regulations.
This, they contend, will reduce rampant cases of smuggling and also curb the spread of the deadly pandemic between the countries.
Michael Ndiweni, who is the executive director of the Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association (BVTA) said immigration officials can ensure that informal traders are allowed to cross the border under strict lockdown regulations for trading purposes.
“As an association, we are aware of the threat posed by (the) Covid-19 pandemic that necessitated the two governments to put restrictions and close borders in an effort to contain its spread,” said Ndiweni.
“However, we are pained by what is happening at illegal entry and exit points despite the noble effort to contain the spread of the ravaging virus between the two countries. We witnessed a video of scores of informal traders having been rounded by South African security forces at an illegal point of exit making painful testimonies about their plight,” he said.
Ndiweni also added that, working in liaison with the two governments, special shops can be set up for purposes of serving informal traders to mitigate against the spread of the virus.
In his submission, Ndiweni also proposed that the neighbouring countries can come up with strict travel timeframes for traders.
“We are appealing to the Zimbabwean and South African governments to urgently look into this issue as the plight of people crossing at illegal points poses a danger of spreading the virus and may even expose women to rape, robbery and harassment among other viles that happen at these illegal points of entry or exit,” Ndiweni submitted.
“BVTA also proposes the controlled movement of people between the two countries. Immigration authorities can join hands in ensuring that there is smooth and safe crossing, whilst informal cross border traders observe the WHO recommended measures to combat the spread of the virus”.
Predominantly an informal economy, Zimbabwe was inescapably affected by the Covid19 induced lockdown as most of its citizens, who bear the brunt of constrained employment opportunities have traditionally depended on informal trading to eke out a living amid unbearable living conditions in the country.
At one time, before the deadly pandemic took its toll on the southern African region, close to 3 million Zimbabweans were reported to be living and working in South Africa.
Most Zimbabwean youths deserted the country enmasse after the country’s economic fortunes dramatically nosedived following a controversial agrarian programme which drove the previously productive white commercial farmers off the large tracts of land they were operating on.